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Our Worst Fears Confirmed

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Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count by Steven Freeman and Joel Bleifuss

Ever since I heard that Steven Freeman was coming out with a book to follow up his article, "The Unexplained Exit-Poll Discrepancy," I have been eager to read it. Freeman was one of the first to discover and explore the discrepancies between the exit polls and the official vote count in 2004. Honestly, I greeted the book with curiosity tinged with dread. I felt like the character in a horror movie that voluntarily walks up the steps of the deserted house and can't keep from opening that door. We know it's a bad idea. Otherwise, they would have played different music. Is my analogy too grim? Maybe. But hiding from the truth clearly hasn't worked thus far, and the current situation is decidedly worse than it was two years ago. For change to happen, we must confront the problem and attempt to understand it.

Since I cringe at the arrival of my monthly bank statements, I was afraid this book would be too technical for me. Buzzflash's review stressed the book's readability, so I took a leap of faith and have to say their description was apt. All you liberal arts majors out there, fear not!

This book is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand what has happened in the last several presidential elections. Don't pooh-pooh Freeman's premise without giving it a closer look. Come back with reasoned arguments if you can, but this book needs to be part of a crucial public debate about our elections and our future.

On Election Day 2004, Freeman avidly followed the exit polls reports. Kerry was clearly ahead, as initially confirmed by CNN's website data. By the next morning, however, the CNN site had "an entirely different set of numbers with no explanation. I wondered if I had incorrectly remembered what I'd seen the night before."(vii) The original exit poll data had been adjusted to reflect the official count, thereby disappearing the discrepancies. Fortunately, Jonathan Simon, of Verified Vote 2004, had captured 46 states' projections from the previous evening and posted them to the Democratic Underground website. This data formed the basis for Freeman's analysis.

Steven Freeman did not set out to prove vote fraud. As an academic whose area of expertise includes polling, he was intrigued by the exit poll discrepancies themselves, and the strange fact that the mainstream media wasn't talking about them. After posting a draft of his paper for his colleagues, Freeman was deluged by over 2,000 emails. He writes:
"The paper spread all over the Internet, and I began to be overwhelmed with media phone calls and interview requests. But although the story was widely covered in the independent media, my interviews with reporters from the Washington Post and USA Today never made it into print. I rushed out on last-minute notice to do a CNN studio interview that did not air. An MSNBC interview was canceled (because a verdict was reached that afternoon in the Peterson murder trial). Over the next few days, stories appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and many other publications ridiculing "Internet conspiracy theory." My article, as far as I know, was not mentioned in any of these stories; rather, they seemed to cherry-pick the weakest Internet allegations to debunk and, on that basis, dismiss any and all inquiry as "conspiracy theory." Despite the obvious importance of the subject, colleagues with impressive credentials who raised questions about the official election results, such as Fritz Scheuren, the president of the American Statistical Association, could not get opeds published. ABC resisted publishing on their Web site a column by their own columnist, mathematician John Allen Paulos - the winner of the 2003 American Association for the Advancement of Science award for the promotion of public understanding of science - when he, too, took notice of the discrepancy."(xvi)

The National Election Pool (NEP) hired Warren Mitofsky to conduct the exit polls. The six NEP members were: AP, NBC, CNN, Fox, ABC, and CBS. Mitofsky has directed exit polls in more than 3,000 elections worldwide since 1967. International agreement about the value of exit polls has led to the recent overturning of elections in Serbia, Georgia, and the Ukraine. Also included in the book are German exit polls listed by party.
"Like most democracies, Germany, despite its technological prowess, votes by hand-marked ballots, counted in full public view by volunteer representatives of the political parties. This highly transparent system provides good evidence of just how reliable exit polls are. In three recent years for which data is available, exit polls for both the German national elections and the German elections for the European parliament have averaged results within 0.44 percentage points of the official results." (98)

One of the most disturbing revelations of the book centers on how the public came to know about the discrepancies and the reason for an almost perfect news blackout. Again, I quote Freeman and Bleifuss:
"Had it not been for leaks from the media and a technical glitch on the CNN site that caused the unadjusted data to be aired, the unadjusted exit-poll data would never have been collected and preserved, and we might never have known about the exit-poll discrepancy at all. These data were not intended for public release. As Slate editor Jack Shafer put it, the six NEP members "signed a blood oath not to divulge it to unauthorized eyes."(104)

What are we to make of this? What about the press's sacred duty as watchdogs of democracy on behalf of the American public? Is this not extremely alarming?

The authors have constructed a table to highlight the differences between Las Vegas slot machines and electronic voting machines. Their information comes from a 2004 New York Times editorial series on "Making Votes Count." In every category, including software, spot-checking, standards, background scrutiny, equipment certification, and disputes, the slot machine is more secure and its user more confident of its integrity. The contrast is stark and startling, effectively illustrating the problem. Do we consider our money more valuable than our democracy? It's hard to conclude otherwise.

The Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) has 75,000 members. When surveyed, 95% of those who responded stated that a paper record for all voters was a must. Bruce O'Dell, voting activist and fellow computer scientist, says:
"The ACM is a large group of professionals of very diverse political background. Outrage is essentially universal across my profession. Imagine, if 95% of a group of structural engineers said a bridge will fall down if you drive on it, would anyone in their right mind still drive on it?" (58)

Since this isn't a movie, I can reveal the authors' conclusion that Bush's purported victory was a statistical impossibility. Moreover, according to the data, it appears that Kerry won by a sizeable amount, in excess of seven million votes. Shocked? I was.

I consider this an important work and I want my review to make you say to yourself: "I must go online and order this book immediately." I don't want it to suffer the same fate as Mark C. Miller's "Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them)". Miller, a professor of media studies at NYU, has appeared on various TV and radio shows in the past, promoting his other books on this administration. The publishing of this book, however, was greeted by media silence. Once
quite popular on the media circuit, his dance card is currently empty.

This was not an easy review to write. I found myself marking literally dozens of key passages and if it seems that I have done a lot of quoting, it's only a tiny fraction of the book's relevant material. It is jam-packed with explanations about how exit polling works, the factors that go into a sample, and how well they've been used in the past in America and around the world. In short, all of the details that you didn't even know that you didn't know. The presidential election of 2000 is examined and sets the stage for what happened four years later, as it's impossible to understand one without the other.

That sinking feeling many of us experienced on election night may not have been unfounded. If this were a lightweight book skimpy on detail, you might write it off as wishful thinking. But, the case is carefully built, brick by brick. There is nothing wild nor outlandish about either the writing style or the claims. It's hard to read all of this material without coming to the same conclusion. You may not come out happy with what you now know, but you will certainly know more than you did before reading this book. And now, what to do with this information?

Let's let the authors sum it up. They've done a terrific job so far.
"In a way we are too complacent when we place the blame only on the media and our national oversight bodies. A nation depends also on its professional and educated elite to protect, or at least speak out about, abuse of power. But so few of the professionals and academics, who sit comfortably atop the status quo, have been willing to take responsibility as individual citizens. And in the end the question does rest with the citizenry, all the citizenry. How far are we going to let things go? How hard are we willing to fight for our democratic principles and processes?" (206)

That is the $64,000 question.

Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit polls, Election Fraud, and The Official Count by Steven Freeman and Joel Bleifuss, Seven Stories Press, 2006
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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