The emails keep pouring in. Please investigate voter fraud! Here’s evidence the Republicans stole the election! We’re watching YOU cover the election irregularities! A number of Americans–is the number growing?–believe George W. Bush only won the election because the voting was somehow rigged. And each day they disseminate via email what they consider to be proof–or, at the least, reasons to be suspicious. In pieces for The Nation magazine, I’ve noted that there is good cause to worry about the integrity of a voting system that is overseen by partisan players and that relies in part upon paperless electronic voting machines that are manufactured by companies that are led by pro-GOP executives and that refuse to reveal the computer codes they use. But I’ve also cautioned against declaring that the potential for abuse means the system was abused to flip the results. Exit polls that differ from reported vote counts are not necessarily proof of foul play, and statistical analyses that seem to raise questions need thorough vetting before they are waved about as signs of chicanery.
Take one of the early arguments for the “stolen election.” Shortly after E Day, a former high school math teacher named Kathy Dopp sent out a chart that showed George W. Bush faring unusually well in Florida counties that used optical scan voting machines. A-ha, some folks exclaimed, this chart demonstrated the vote had been fixed. A team of political scientists led by Walter Mebane, a professor of government at Cornell, then examined the votes in these counties and found they were consistent with a years-long trend of registered Democrats in rural counties voting for Republican presidential candidates. Their findings were disputed by some “stolen election” advocates. But the Caltech/MIT Voter Technology Project released a study that reached the same conclusion as the Mebane paper. And this past Sunday, the Miami Herald published the results of its investigation of this particular voting pattern. The paper noted,
Some wondered whether Florida’s tally was corrupt, with one Internet site writing: “George W. Bush’s vote tallies, especially in the key state of Florida, are so statistically stunning that they border on the unbelievable.”
The Miami Herald last week went to see for itself whether Bush’s steamroll through north Florida was legitimate. Picking three counties that fit the conspiracy-theory profile–staunchly Democratic by registration, whoppingly GOP by voting–two reporters counted more than 17,000 ballots over three days. The conclusion: no conspiracy.
The count of optical-scan ballots in Suwannee, Lafayette and Union counties showed Bush whipping John Kerry in a region where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1.
The Herald found minor differences with official results, most involving ballots that had been discarded as unreadable by optical-scan machines but in which reporters thought the voter’s intent was clear.