Of Levers, WPE, and The National Popular Vote

We have made several posts lately about the relative merits of touch screens (DREs), vs. optical scanners vs. lever machines.  We have also warned of the risks in going to the National Popular Vote given the current state by state variations in voting integrity.

We ask you to contemplate:

  • How certain can we be that George Bush won the popular vote in 2004?
  • How certain can we be that Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000?
  • How might the totals change if every error or fraud in every state could contribute to the popular vote and it would decide the President?
  • How many votes would be added or subtracted if all the absentee ballots and provisional ballots were counted in every state and the results for every district and precinct reviewed to make sure each state’s totals were accumulated correctly?
  • How many votes would be added or subtracted if the reported popular vote was close and a process like Minnesota’s were used for a nationwide recount of the paper ballots?
    (answers below)

Within Precinct Error (WPM) is a measure of the difference between the exit polls and the actual result.  We have heard a lot about the discrepancies between the exit polls in 2004 and the election results that claim that Kerry was consistently higher in the polls than the results and that it points to fraud <e.g.>.  Countered by strong arguments from statisticians that there are other explinations. <e.g.>

A story today reminds us that we cannot trust the fictional national popular vote number. <read>

The 12% NY WPE cut Kerry’s vote margin (and increased Bush’s) by about 900,000. Kerry also won late paper ballot votes (absentees, provisionals, etc.) by the same 64%.  Just a coincidence, Lever bots will surely say. But Past is Prologue. Obama won 71% of NY late votes and just 63% of the recorded vote. Gore won 66% of late votes and 60% officially. Mechanical Levers had the highest average WPE (11%) of all voting machines. Paper ballots had 2%, optical scanners and unverifiable touch-screens 7%. At least there is a paper trail with optical scanners,

New York is just one state:  No paper – No means of proving/refuting – No confidence

Our answers to questions above:

  • How certain can we be that George Bush won the popular vote in 2004?
    Not certain enough to feel confident.
  • How certain can we be that Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000?
    Given the errors in 2000 accounting in FL and fraud found in other elections its quite likely that the magnitude of error exceeded the margin nationwide.
  • How might the totals change if every error or fraud in every state could contribute to the popular vote and it would decide the President?
    The incentive for fraud would apply to every district, precinct, and state, not just a few close states.  There would be more for advocates to monitor.
  • How many votes would be added or subtracted if all the absentee ballots and provisional ballots were counted in every state and the results for every district and precinctreviewed to make sure each state’s totals were accumulated correctly?
    Lots.
  • How many votes would be added or subtracted if the reported popular vote was close and a process like Minnesota’s were used for a nationwide recount of the paper ballots?
    None.  This is a trick question.  Each state only recounts its on votes based on a close margin in its own totals.  Even in a very close national popular vote, none or very few states would have a recount.  Also many states, like New York, do not have  paper ballots to count.
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