What are we to make of the White House Race rigging allegations?

November 26th, 2004

    Is former Labour minister, Michael Meacher on to something?

At the risk of appearing a bad loser, a conspiracy theorist or a paranoid we publish extracts from an article by former Labour cabinet minister, Michael Meacher, in this week’s New Statesman.

He raises questions that do seem worthy of further investigation about the exit polls on November 2nd in states where there was electronic voting (above) and the rest. Meacher’s claim is that the polls were reasonably accurate in the latter but in states where electronic systems were in place they were not – and the “errors” were all in the President’s favour.

Unfortunately the article does not contain enough detailed statistical analysis to make the case fully but we thought that Politicalbetting users might find it interesting.

Meacher writes:-Now allegations are surfacing that the use of electronic voting systems and optical scanning devices may have had a significant influence on the result. Computer security experts insist that such sys- tems are not secure and not tamper-proof, yet they were used to count a third of the votes across 37 states. Though the Democrats remain strangely coy about the whole subject, academics and political analysts are now drawing comparisons between areas that used paper ballots and areas that used electronic systems. Is it possible that results in the latter were rigged?

An analysis of the poll by different states points up inconsistencies that cannot be explained by random variation. In Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, Iowa, New Mexico, Maine, Nevada, Arkansas and Missouri, where a variety of different voting systems were used, including paper ballots in many cases, the four companies carrying out exit polls were almost exactly right and their results were certainly within the margin of error. In Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Minnesota, New Hampshire and North Carolina, however, where electronic or optical scanning machines were used (though not exclusively), the tracking polls were seriously discrepant from the published result.

Two aspects of this are immediately striking. One is the large size of the variance, and the other is that in every case it favoured Bush. In Wisconsin and Ohio, the discrepancy favoured Bush by 4 per cent, in Pennsylvania by 5 per cent, in Florida and Minnesota by 7 per cent, in North Carolina by 9 per cent and in New Hampshire by an astonishing 15 per cent.

Moreover, extensive voting irregularities have been reported across the US – including intimidation, exclusion of black voters from electoral rolls, touchscreens that consistently registered support for Bush when the name Kerry was touched, and a large number of county precincts (including in Ohio) where the number of votes cast exceeded the total number of registered voters, sometimes by large margins. In Florida, for example, the number of votes reported for all the candidates exceeded the maximum possible voter turnout by 237,522, so that a minimum of 3.1 per cent of the votes must be fraudulent, and possibly considerably more…

…So can we really be sure that this year’s result was an accurate reflection of the popular will? It has emerged that the Diebold Gems software and optical scan voting machines used in counting a high proportion of the votes may not be tamper-proof from hacking, particularly via remote modems. Two US computer security experts, in their recently published book Black Box Voting, argue that “by entering a two-digit code in a hidden location, a second set of votes is created; and this set of votes can be changed in a matter of seconds, so that it no longer matches the correct votes”. After the Florida fiasco four years earlier, the US Congress voted $3.9bn to improve the quality of voting systems. Perhaps the latest revelations about what happened where electronic systems were used may become known as the “November surprise”.

It will be interesting to see if this is taken up. It does need the detailed numbers to support the case.

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