Something's rotten in the state of Denmark

Monday, November 29, 2004


We had already explained the "Heavily Democrat counties in Northern Florida voted heavily for Bush" phenomenon, a couple of weeks back, by affirming that those conservative Democrat counties -- Dixiecrat counties -- had gone for Dole in '96 and Bush in 2000.

But just in case anyone is still skeptical about those Northern Florida counties, the Miami Herald held an independent vote count that confirmed Bush's win in Northern Florida.

Last week, The Miami Herald went to see for itself whether Bush's steamroll through North Florida was legitimate. Picking three counties that fit the conspiracy theory profile - staunchly Democratic by registration, whoppingly GOP by voting - two reporters counted more than 17,000 ballots over three days.

The conclusion: No conspiracy.

The newspaper's count of optical scan ballots in Suwannee, Lafayette and Union counties showed Bush whipping Sen. John Kerry in a swath of Florida where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1.

The newspaper found minor differences with the official results in each county, most involving a smattering of ballots that had been discarded as unreadable by optical scan machines but in which reporters felt the voter intent was clear.

Under the optical scan system, voters fill in an oval or darken an arrow by a candidate's name on a card. A machine reads the card optically.

Wrinkles aside, the Herald count confirmed that Bush's message sold in a part of the state where many voters may be Democratic by registration only.

"They're not going to vote for a Northeast liberal," summarized Lafayette County Judge Harlow Land, director of the county canvassing board.

Kerry had solidly won the battle in South Florida, where touch-screen machines do not create a ballot paper trail that can be checked. But Bush won the war in Florida by dominating elsewhere, particularly in the 52 counties that use optical scan ballots, which can be checked for accuracy.

Republicans had often done fairly well in those counties, but this year more so.

And it was on those counties that the critics focused. Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 340,000 voters in the 52 optical scan counties, but Bush took them by about 340,000 votes - a 680,000-vote swing that assured him of winning the White House.

The Herald total: 3,393 votes for Bush and 1,272 for Kerry. There were 15 votes that couldn't clearly be counted.

The official Union County total: 3,396 votes for Bush, 1,251 for Kerry and a few dozen that couldn't be counted.

"The difference is in the under-over votes," Montpetit explained. The Herald concluded voter intent in a couple of dozen cases that optical scan readers could not discern.

The rest of the article is a good read.

But as the Hout Report and others have shown, the question is not Northern Florida and hasn't been for some time. The question is Southern Florida, in the touch-screen counties. Counties like Broward and Palm Beach that, though Kerry won the counties, experienced abnormally strong Bush turn-out that went against the 2000 experience and all demographic patterns, causing what Hout described as a "smoke alarm" situation meriting attention and answers. Given that Florida was the only "swing state" which experienced such a strong change from 2000's results, there still have not been explanations for Bush's strong performance here. (Our best shot at a plausible, no funny business explanation is that the hurricanes helped Bush. But then again, in 2000, he had the Elian controversy helping him. But then again, in 2000, Lieberman helped the Democrats on the Eastern coast of Florida! But then again, in 2000, Lieberman probably alienated the Redneck Riviera! So confusing!)

Note: We at Rotten Denmark, from what we've read, accept the explanation that one of the reasons for Bush's 3.5 million vote margin can be revealed in comparing Bush's performance in non-swing red and blue states to the swing states.

While, except for Florida, Bush's performance in swing states varied little from 2000 -- he lost New Hampshire and won Iowa and New Mexico, but the margins were slim in 2000 and slim in 2004 -- Bush did significantly better in non-swing red states like Utah and Idaho and non-swing blue states like Connecticut and California than in 2000.

Why? Because while Kerry and the 527s focused all of their advertising dollars on targetted advertising in swing states, Bush aired much of his advertising on national cable. This might have seemed like Bush was paying money to reach lots of voters he didn't need to reach, in states he was either never going to win or had in the bag, but it meant also that people in Utah or upstate New York were seeing many Bush advertisments throughout the campaign season and few Kerry ads, if any. Whether this was conscious or not, who knows -- no doubt Rove would say after the fact is was all part of the plan -- but it did rack up the popular vote totals nationwide for Bush, even though it did not play a part in the electoral vote strategy.

So the theory goes, anyway, and I find it more than plausible.