Many of us came to activism on the issue of computerized voting after reading the powerful analysis, by some of our most dedicated election integrity activists, of the flawed 2004 vote count. That analysis demonstrated the correctness of the original 2004 Mitofsky/Edison Exit Poll that predicted a win by John Kerry by 3%. It undermined the vote “count” that gave George Bush a victory by 2.5%.
In November 2006, a team, comprising some of these same experts, gathered in Philadelphia to analyze the outcome of the mid-term congressional election. Again, their analysis showed a discrepancy (of 3 million votes) between the exit poll data and the vote counts. Activists were certain that this outcome, backed up by the loss of 18,000 votes in Sarasota County, Florida, would finally raise the profile of the issue of false election outcomes. It did not happen in the way that we had hoped: a media and congressional challenge to the election result.
We have made progress however. There have been courageous actions by elected officials in states such as California, Florida, Ohio, and Colorado. New Jersey and Minnesota are leading in establishing audit protocols. New Yorkers have faced off with the Justice Department over implementing HAVA. Many more states will have paper records and paper ballots this year. Some leading activists have had the opportunity to move inside to make reform a reality. In this long process, activists and officials have often placed their careers, livelihoods, reputations, and relationships on the line in calling attention to election problems and in demanding reform.
We now have a controversial New Hampshire primary election outcome that contradicts every major polling prediction. It is very important that we pause and get our framing right as we address concerns over last night’s outcome. We have an opportunity to establish the principle that contradictions between scientific polling data and controversial computerized election system outcomes always require investigation. This event comes just two days after the New York Times Magazine raised the alarm by warning readers that their votes could disappear.
Are the stars aligning in our favor? Consider who was affected directly and uncomfortably by last night’s events: pollsters, pundits, media outlets, and campaigns. These are the people we need on our side this year and these are the people who are looking for an explanation for what happened last night. We must avoid wild speculation and accusations, the theories that hinder us in achieving our goal, a review of the process of counting votes.
Polling, especially exit polling, is a well-recognized science. Computerized voting, on the other hand, is vulnerable to human error, programming error, and technological glitches, which we should emphasize. It is also vulnerable to deliberate manipulation- speculation which we should avoid. We encourage candidates, pollsters, pundits, media, and elected officials to reconsider election results when we focus on the technology and avoid accusation and speculation. If a discrepancy is confirmed between voting system input (programming and ballots) and voting system output (vote counts), the affected constituencies listed above can be more effective in ferreting out systematic corruption, if it exists, than we have ever dreamed. Let’s take advantage of the astrological phenomenon presented to us (media stars with egg on their faces) and try to get them on our side by emphasizing the science, the exit polls they relied upon.