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November 21, 2004

Mile High Fever Swamps

It's been noted here before that when the Denver Post discovers vote fraud, it tends to be of the kind that doesn't exist. Last week, they published an editorial calling for federal intervention to solve exactly the wrong problems. Now, the Post is on the verge of following up Florida 2000 with, Diebold 2004 ("Activists protest electronic voting"). Apparently, the presence of all of 200 people at the Coloado Capitol steps on Saturday rates a story with more words than participants it's covering.

"There's no reason that any reasonable person should have any confidence in this election," said Alan Gilbert, a political science professor at the University of Denver. "We voted on machines that were provided by a private company and were not subject to public review. This is a very, very serious thing."

The electronic voting machines, used by about one-third of Americans this year, don't leave a paper trail that can be accounted for. That could have made the difference during this year's election for Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry, said Gilbert, who said he once taught secretary of state nominee Condoleezza Rice.

President Bush's margin of victory was roughly 3.5 million votes.

In addition to protesting the new voting technology, the group said exit-poll data was off as much as six points from the official results in swing states, which could be a signal of voter fraud.

"Exit-poll data has never been inaccurate in the U.S.," Gilbert said. "This is a new level of unfairness in American elections."

Mark Blumenthal, a nationally recognized political pollster who created www.mysterypollster.com , urged patience on his website Friday for those criticizing early exit-poll data.

"We have not yet seen any empirical evidence in the exit polls to prove the existence of vote fraud, nor any evidence that the exit-poll discrepancy can be explained by any such fraud," Blumenthal said.

In the first place, Gilbert's quotes are accepted virtually uncritically. There are no specifics given, none of the theories which have already been disproven are mentioned. The easiest way to feed a fever-swamp is exactly this sort of vague, "we can't prove it, but we know what we know" sort of accusation.

The accusation seems to rest entirely on the discrepancy between exit-poll data, and actual election results. The accusers then go on to blame electronic voting machines for the discrepancy. The logical leaps here are obvious: there's no evidence that the discrepancies were any greater in places using electronic voting machines than anywhere else; exit-poll data was extremely limited in time and scope; it's automatically the voting, and not the exit-polls that were wrong, and so on.

These and other points have been covered in greater detail elsewhere.

The Post then goes on to quote Blumenthal in the least-damning way possible to those he actually opposes quite strongly. Here's a much fuller quote:

Had I written that better, I might have said: "So to summarize, if you want to explain the exit poll discrepancy, absent further data from NEP, you can choose to believe..." My point is that there are two competing theories for the discrepancy: The first is that the exit polls were slightly biased to Kerry due to a consistent pattern of what methodologists call "differential non-response" that has been evident in exit polls to a lesser degree for a dozen years (Republicans were more likely to refuse to fill out the exit poll than Democrats). The second theory is that systematic and consistent vote fraud occurred in almost every state and using every type of voting equipment. The first hypothesis seems plausible to me; the second wildly improbable.

Also, remember that Blumenthal is a pollster. He's much more concerned with trying to figure out why the exit polls were wrong than with trying to prove or disprove vote fraud.

As for Prof. Gilbert, the Post makes no mention of his own biases in the matter. Prof. Gilbert is indeed a political science professor at DU. He's also a Marxist ("power-rivalry and capitalism versus human rights and democracy"), anti-war activist, whose interest in free-speech and democracy apparently doesn't extend to those with whom he disagrees. Take a look at this past Summer's syllabus, for instance.

Now, being an anti-war activist is not, in and of itself evidence of bias. But in the course of that activism, he's ventured into conspiracy theory before:

You donít have to be too with it to see that Iraq had little to do with fighting Al Queda," said Alan Gilbert, John Evans Professor at the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Colorado at Denver and author of "Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?" "It isnít too hard to figure out that the oil White House and the Lockheed Martin White House are shooting for oil, not for inspections. The way it is presented, if it is your son or daughter who is being asked to fight a war on Iraq, are you going to feel good about this thing? Thatís the reason thereís a big anti-war movement." (emphasis added)

This in a story that also wildly overstates the opposition to the Iraq War, and predicts mass outpourings that never happened. As a gauge of actual public opinion, Mr. Gilbert's compass seems a few points left of true north. Of course, Marxists frequently have a hard time admitting publicly that most people don't agree with them. It would undermine the putsch. And let's just say that Marxist commitment to accurate vote-counting is somewhat tenuous.

So what we're left with is 350 words on 200 people who can't come to grips with the fact that they lost. Their flawed statistical arguments are mentioned, their leader's Marxism is unmentioned, and the one countervailing voice is watered-down.

Let's hope that the Post isn't getting ready to follow up Florida 2000 with Diebold 2004.

Posted by joshuasharf at November 21, 2004 06:42 AM | TrackBack

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