September 16, 2003

Further Clarification of the Vote Error Issue

Comments to the post below on the Ninth Circuit ruling have noted some confusion as to my argument. The point is this: the 40,000 votes cited in the argument by the ACLU before the Ninth Circuit are hypothetical based on known error rates in the election process--and it makes it sound as if changing the tech will guarantee no errors. This is not the case.

My point is manifold:

  • First, there are errors in all elections using all types of technology. Indeed, some will argue that the same voters who are allegedly going to have trouble with the punch cards will have trouble with touch-screens because they aren't used to computers. The problem here is the same as with the punch-cards, it largely (although not exclusively) is a voter-education issue.

  • Second, since we currently do not have, nor are we going to have, uniform voting equipment across all counties in all states across the US, then the Ninth Circuit's decision, when driven to its logical conclusion, raises substantial questions about all voting across the country. Because if the issue is equal access to the same error rates, we have never had that and unless there is a multi-billion dollar expenditure to make it happen, we are never going to have it. Plus, it is unclear as to whether it would be constitutional to make all the state use the exact same equipment.

  • Third, even with the same equpment, not all voters are going to have the same probability of properly casting a vote. The illiterate voter is more likely to make a mistake than the literate one, the elderly voter with vision problems is going to have more trouble than the 24 year-old, the more educated voter will have a better time in general than the under-educated one, and so forth. It is, therefore, likely impossible to ever guarantee that every voter's vote has the exact same chance of being counted.

    This is not a partisan argument--it is a fact that there is always error is every election. There are always votes that don't get counted and it is impossible to prevent this fact, although it can be mitigated. The only reason we never talked about it much prior to 2000 is that it rarely made any difference in any election. Indeed, the Caltech-MIT voter project estimates that 6 million votes weren't counted nationwide in 2000.

  • Fourth, the whole thing raises the mathematical question of how much error is too much, and therefore when should elections by stopped?

  • Fifth, there is no guarantee that the new machines won't have substantial error problems next March--whether from human error by the voter, or by the operators because the tech will be brand new.

  • Sixth, the Bush v. Gore decision was a ruling on differing standards of counting the exact same kinds of ballots, not on differing methods of casting ballots.

  • Seventh, the punch-card system in question has been used for at least 25 years in CA (as I noted before, I have used it myself). It has worked well, and has clearly not created any controversies. The controversy was created in and by Florida--not by an incident in CA.

  • Eighth, from a politico-legal perspective it is noteworthy that none of the litigants who raised the case this go 'round objected to the system (in a legal sense) when it effectively re-elected Gray Davis in 2002.

  • Ninth: voter education is a legitimate issue. It is no doubt the case that with sufficient public education, and training of poll-workers, that the error rates associated with the punch-card system could be reduced. This is a legitimate avenue to pursue. And I say again: after Florida in 2000, it is highly likely that voters are far more aware of the pitfalls of the punch-card ballots and will therefore be more diligent in their punching.

    Posted by Steven Taylor at September 16, 2003 10:25 AM | TrackBack
  • Comments

    Truly amazing. Each and every one of Steven's points are demonstrably wrong.

    Point 1. Steven uses a false premise ("and it makes it sound as if changing the tech will guarantee no errors."). The legal standard is not to assure there will be absolutely no errors. Instead, the legal standard used was the possibility a disproportionate number of voters in the state would be, in effect, disenfranchised as compared to other voters in the state.

    Point 2. Again, Steven, employs a false premise by noting voting mechanisms vary across counties and states. The legal standard is within one state. If CA were to use punch cards in all their counties, there'd have been no injunction.

    Point 3. A wholly unsupported contention. And one that isn't germane to the legal standard. Voter error occurs regardless of the voting mechanism used.

    Point 4. A red herring by Steven built upon the house of cards he constructed with his previous points. Again, the issue isn't that there will be some degree of error; it's that some voters within a state will be subjected to a greater risk of disenfranchisement.

    Point 5. Steven is merely rephrasing erroneous statements made previously.

    Point 6.Patently and logically false. First, the method in which votes are cast often dictates how they are counted. Second, in FL, the FL SC (and 6 of 9 USSC justices agreed) had ruled that so long as a uniform standard was used to count a certain type of ballot--the method of counting didn't matter. Bush v. Gore was not a ruling on counting methodology.

    Point 8. Steven uses the term 'politico-legal'--which is synonymous with 'making it up as I go along.' The fact is the recall will involve many times fewer voters than the general election in 2002. Compounding this is the fact there aren't going to 2-3 candidates but a recall question (yes or no) with a roster of 100 + candidates. As such, one can readily see any error rate factor (if not uniform) will be tremendously magnified.

    Point 9. More unsupported garbage from Steven.

    Posted by: JadeGold at September 16, 2003 11:17 AM


    Do you always make up “facts” as you go along? There are security issues involved with touch-screen voting and one hijacking or corruption of a single computer could cause a disenfranchisement on a scale never before seen. The “facts” remain to be seen.

    Posted by: d-rod at September 16, 2003 11:34 AM

    d-Rod, you must have accidently poked yourself in your eye with your bong. I never made any claims one way or another with respect to touch screen voting machines. In fact, I didn't mention them at all.

    You (and Steven) really ought to do your homework before posting such utter nonsense. A fact you've both overlooked is the fact punch card voting machines have been decertified by the state of CA.

    Posted by: JadeGold at September 16, 2003 12:47 PM

    I haven't overlooked that "fact" at all, Gold. I just believe the state's constitution overrules a conveniently timed decertification by the liberal-controlled state. And if the machines are bad now, they were certainly disenfranchising voters when Davis was elected, as he says, "fair and square".

    Posted by: d-rod at September 16, 2003 01:29 PM

    Okay, Steven, admit it: You're secretly posting idiotic crap calling yourself JadeGold to spice up the comments, right?

    Posted by: James Joyner at September 16, 2003 03:42 PM

    No JadeGole is really JohnC in disguise and it capable of posting mountains of idiotic crap by himself.

    Posted by: Paul at September 16, 2003 05:39 PM


    I have often wonder if the the whole JG thing is a put-on. However, I sadly can not claim credit for his comedic flair.

    Posted by: Steven at September 16, 2003 07:38 PM


    While it may be true that John often fails to see the obvious brilliance of my postings, trust me, he ain't anywhere near JG's "league"

    Posted by: Steven at September 16, 2003 08:33 PM

    Nah, JadeGold isn't Steven nor is he/she JohnC. Jade's simply an Internet denizen cursed by the Almighty to roam comment boards and post idiotic remarks that make everyone else seem fair-minded and enlightened by comparison ;-)

    Posted by: Matthew at September 16, 2003 09:01 PM

    James Joyner:

    We all can't self-describe ourselves as 'sardonic,' can we?

    You need to work on those self-esteem issues, Jimbo.

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