Who lost in the Massachusetts Special Election?

An article in Metro West brings home the points discussed here in two recent posts:

First, Prof. Ron Rivest explained how audits can protect our votes, ironically not used in his home state of Massachussets <see Ron Rivest explains why elections should be audited, especially in MA.>

Second, the lack of audits in Wisconsin and one of the highest purposes of audits: Convince the losers and their supporters that they lost fairly. <see What We Worry Wisconsin! – Look ma no audits!>

We could have titled that last one Look MA no audits! Here is the result of no audits in Massachusetts, brought home this week in Metro West: Was the Brown-Coakley Senate election stolen? <read>

  • unanswered suspicions after an election
  • paper ballots, yet never checked
  • no certainty two years after an election
  • less trust in democracy

But 3 percent of the ballots were counted by hand, in 71 of the state’s smallest communities. If someone was meddling with the computer tally, Simon hypothesized in an August 2010 report, it might be evident by comparing those results with the percentages for the computer-counted ballots.

Simon established a baseline by looking at the previous two Senate races, where Kennedy and Sen. John Kerry defeated little-known opponents by wide margins. In 2008, the margin by which Kerry won in the optical scan ballots was almost identical to his margin on the hand-counted ballots – a disparity of just 1 percent. For the 2006 results, the numbers were similar, with Kennedy taking 69.5 percent of the vote on the opscan ballots and 68.9 percent in the hand-count communities.

Simon checked a third lopsided race, the attorney general contest Coakley won in 2006 and, again, the hand-counted electorate matched up closely to the optically scanned electorate. The disparity in results in that race was just .8 percent…

But 2010 was a different story. In hand-count communities, Coakley won, 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent. On the optically scanned ballots, Brown won, 52.6 percent to 47.4 percent for Coakley. That adds up to a disparity of 8 percent.

That disparity “stands as an unexplained anomaly of dramatic numerical proportions,” Simonwrites. It raises questions he can’t answer, but he concedes it proves nothing. It certainly doesn’t prove anyone falsified the tallies made by computer.

But it is curious enough to make you wish someone was double-checking the results.

Who lost? Everyone interested in democracy, because it requires accurate elections that voters and losers can trust.


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