November 23, 2004

Democrats Back Ohio Recount - Finally!

Keith Olbermann at MSNBC reports on a news release from Ohio's Democratic chairman, Dennis White:
"As Senator Kerry stated in his concession speech in Boston, we do not necessarily expect the results of the election to change, however, we believe it necessary to make sure everyone's vote is counted fairly and accurately." White called for witnesses, volunteers, and donations.

The statement ends nearly three weeks of official Democratic ambivalence towards the formal recount process in the election's decisive state. As late as Friday, Senator Kerry's email to 3,000,000 supporters contained a seemingly ambiguous reference to that process, which began with the phrase "Regardless of the outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted, and believe me they will be counted, we will continue to challenge the administration."

It had been left to the independent parties, the Greens and Libertarians, to do the initial work demanding a recount in each of Ohio's 88 counties. Their combined effort led to a bond of $113,600 being posted with the state last Friday to guarantee the coverage of expenses incurred. Just today, the "Glibs" amplified their demands in Ohio, filing a federal lawsuit that, if successful, would require the completion of the "full, hand recount" before the meeting of the Electoral College on December 13.

The Ohio Democrats did not attach themselves to the lawsuit. "The recount can begin after the official results are certified, which likely will be in the first week of December," reads the news release. "The Democratic party wants to be fully prepared to begin a recount immediately."
Olbermann also notes that the "drop-dead date" is not December 13, but January 6. A piece reprinted in the Smirking Chimp has some more interesting info:
It is noteworthy that the announcement of a legal challenge made it into weekend editions of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Columbus Dispatch, the Associated Press wires, and other publications. The Columbus paper even mentioned something curious. "Earlier this week, the Ohio Democratic party announced it would join a lawsuit arguing that the state lacks clear rules for evaluating provisional ballots, a move the party said will keep its options open if problems with the ballots surface."

This makes a little more sense out of a confusing item that appeared in an obscure weekly paper in Westchester County, New York, last Wednesday, in which a reporter named Adam Stone wrote "A top-ranking official with Democratic Senator John Kerry's presidential campaign told North County News last week that although unlikely, there is a recount effort being waged that could unseat Republican President George Bush." Stone quotes Kerry spokesman David Wade as saying: "We have 17,000 lawyers working on this, and the grassroots accountability couldn't be any higher - no (irregularity) will go unchecked. Period." Gives a little context to Senator Kerry's opaque mass e-mail and on-line video statement from Friday afternoon.

The Ohio newspaper coverage suggests that even the mainstream media is beginning to sit up and take notice that, whatever its merits, the investigation into the voting irregularities of November 2nd has moved from the Reynolds Wrap Hat stage into legal and governmental action...

Meantime, The Oakland Tribune not only devoted seventeen paragraphs Friday to the UC Berkeley study on the voting curiosities in Florida, but actually expended considerable energy towards what we used to call 'advancing the story': "The UC Berkeley report has not been peer reviewed, but a reputable MIT political scientist succeeded in replicating the analysis Thursday at the request of the Oakland Tribune and The Associated Press. He said an investigation is warranted."

In fact, he - MIT Arts and Social Sciences Dean Charles Stewart - said more than that. "There is an interesting pattern here that I hope someone looks into." Stewart is part of the same Cal Tech/MIT Voting Project that had earlier issued a preliminary report suggesting that there was no evidence of significant voting irregularity in Florida. Dean Stewart added he didn't necessarily buy the Berkeley conclusion - that the only variable that could explain the "excessive" votes in Florida was poisoned touch-screen voting - and still thought there were other options, such as, in the words of The Tribune's Ian Hoffman "absentee voting or some quirk of election administration."

Neither MIT nor Cal Tech has yet responded to the comments of several poll-savvy commentators, and others, that its paper was using erroneous statistics. Its premise, you'll recall, was that on a state-by-state basis, the notorious 2004 Exit Polls were within the margin of error and could be mathematically interpreted as having forecast the announced presidential outcome. It has been observed that the MIT/Cal Tech study used not the "raw" exit polls - as did Professor Steven Freeman of Penn did in his study - but rather the "weighted" polls, in which actual precinct and county official counts are mixed in to "correct" the organic "Hey, Buddy, who'd you vote for" numbers. The "weighted" polls have been analogized to a football handicapper predicting that the New Orleans Saints would beat the Denver Broncos 24-14, then, after the Broncos scored twenty points in the first quarter, announcing his prediction was now that the Saints would beat the Broncos 42-41, or even, that the Broncos would beat the Saints 40-7.

None of the coverage of the Berkeley study clarified a vitally important point about its conclusions regarding the touch-screen wobble in the fifteen Florida counties, and that has led to some unjustified optimism on the activist and Democratic sides. Its math produced two distinct numbers for "ghost votes" for President Bush: 130,000 and 260,000. This has led to the assumption in many quarters that Cal Tech has suggested as many as 260,000 Florida votes could swing from Bush to Kerry (enough to overturn the state). In fact - and the academics got a little too academic in summarizing their report and thus, this kind of got lost - the two numbers already consider the prospect of a swing:

a) There may have been 130,000 votes simply added to the Bush total. If proved and excised, they would reduce the President's Florida margin from approximately 350,000 votes to approximately 220,000;

b) There may have been 130,000 votes switched from Kerry to Bush. If proved and corrected, they would reduce (by double the 130,000 figure - namely 260,000) the President's Florida margin from approximately 350,000 votes to approximately 90,000.

On the ground in Florida, uncounted ballots continue to turn up in Pinellas County. Last Monday, an unmarked banker's box with 268 absentee ballots was discovered "sitting in plain sight on an office floor, with papers and other boxes stacked on top of it," according to The St. Petersburg Times. On Friday, the same paper reported that County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark found twelve more - ten provisionals in a blue pouch at a loading dock, and two absentees in a box headed for a storage facility. "I'm sick about this," the paper quoted Clark, whose office also whiffed on 1400 absentee ballots on Election Day 2000, and counted another 600 twice. Asked by a reporter if the election is over, she replied "I certainly hope so."

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