Something's rotten in the state of Denmark

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Equal Vote

Dan Tokaji has a very thorough and non-tinfoil-hat blog called Equal Vote. It's described as being "devoted to discussion of election reform, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics, including the controversy over voting technology -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities."

Tokaji reports on a Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Report that debunks the notion that the exit poll/actual results discrepancy was largest in jurisdictions using electronic voting.

Meanwhile, Tokaji adds himself to those who view the Florida "Democratic counties voting for Bush" opti-scan phenomenon with skepticism. But Tokaji thinks that the real votes might have been lost in a way that neither involved electronic voting machines nor can be remedied/recounted in any possible way:

The only conceivable argument one might make is that the long lines in some heavily Democratic precincts depressed the vote. It's probably true that a significant number of voters were discouraged. Some people may have waited in line for a while and then given up; others may have seen the lines as they drove up to their polling place and not even gotten out of their cars; still others may have heard about the lines from their friends and neighbors, and never bothered to go vote at all. It's awfully difficult, however, to measure the number of discouraged voters. But I hope that in coming weeks we can at least get some sense of where the long lines were concentrated and whether they imposed a special burden on particular groups of voters.

Tokaji's bottom line: "I'm not persuaded that 'Kerry Won,' and we've not seen any evidence yet that remotely supports that conclusion. But some of the problems that we witnessed in this election warrant more careful scrutiny."

But in an 11/5 post, Tokaji looks closer at the long lines situation. Tokaji's explanation for the long lines, including in his home county of Franklin County in Ohio: not enough machines. Further detail:
An average of 170 votes were cast on each machine in Franklin County. Some wards saw 56 votes per machine, others over 200.

To put this in perspective, it would take more than 14 hours -- an hour longer than the polls were open -- for 170 voters to vote on one machine, if we assume that it takes each person the full five minutes allowed under Ohio law. (In fact, five minutes might not be enough time, given the many new voters and the lengthy ballot in Franklin County, which contained numerous judicial elections and ballot measures, in addition to state and federal offices -- see here.) For 200 people to vote would take 16 hours and 40 minutes.

To make matters worse, I've heard and read some alarming stories about the lines in Franklin County. The Ohio Democratic Party v. Blackwell case, filed on election day, included affidavits from voters in Franklin waiting as long as five hours. One Democratic challenger told me of spending his day in a polling place with two precincts -- one predominantly white and the other predominantly black. While the line moved along at a reasonable pace at the white precinct, voters in the black precinct waited in lines of three hours or more for much of the day. The two precincts had the same number of machines and, he tells me, a similar number of voters. But voters with lower educational attainment levels or less experience voting are likely to take longer to vote, and therefore may be more seriously affected by a shortage of machines.

Did the long lines at the polling place affect the outcome of the election? It's difficult to say, given that most of the evidence we have so far is anecdotal Moreover, it would be difficult or impossible to measure how many voters went home when they saw the lines or never showed up at all when they heard about them. The turnout in Franklin County was 515,642, or 61%, and the county voted for Kerry by about a 54/46 margin (see here). Even if we assume that 120,000 voters were discouraged, and that those voters were twice as likely to vote for Kerry, that's a 40,000 vote swing. So Franklin County's troubles alone weren't enough to turn the election -- although if other counties experienced similar problems, the cumulative effect could have been significant.

And it's, of course, impossible to gage how many votes were lost from voters being dissuaded from the unconscionably long lines at particular polling places that more often than not were in urban, heavily Democratic districts. Who decides where the voting machines go? Why, the Secretary of State's office. Here's hoping that the Democrats nominate someone great to run against Secretary of State Blackwell when Blackwell runs for Governor. That'll be an easy check to write.