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November 4, 2004
Uncommon Foolishness At Tompaine.Com

Just when I thought I'd take an evening off from the blog, Power Line pulls me back in. Rocket Man notes some cartoonish logic and bitterness at Tompaine.com, where Greg Palast tells his readers that John Kerry really won Ohio. Any notion that he didn't apparently comes from a media conspiracy to cover up "spoilage":

I know you don't want to hear it. You can't face one more hung chad. But I don't have a choice. As a journalist examining that messy sausage called American democracy, it's my job to tell you who got the most votes in the deciding states. Tuesday, in Ohio and New Mexico, it was John Kerry.

Most voters in Ohio thought they were voting for Kerry. At 1:05 a.m. Wednesday morning, CNN's exit poll showed Kerry beating Bush among Ohio women by 53 percent to 47 percent. The exit polls were later combined withand therefore contaminated bythe tabulated results, ultimately becoming a mirror of the apparent actual vote. [To read about the skewing of exit polls to conform to official results, click here .] Kerry also defeated Bush among Ohio's male voters 51 percent to 49 percent. Unless a third gender voted in Ohio, Kerry took the state.

So what's going on here? Answer: the exit polls are accurate. Pollsters ask, "Who did you vote for?" Unfortunately, they don't ask the crucial, question, "Was your vote counted?" The voters don't know.

Here's why. Although the exit polls show that most voters in Ohio punched cards for Kerry-Edwards, thousands of these votes were simply not recorded. This was predictable and it was predicted.

You see where this is headed, don't you? Palast bases his entire argument on the fact that the pollsters got one result from their sampling while the actual count of the ballots turned out differently. Not only does Palast discard the much-larger sample of ballots versus street interviews, he deliberately uses the wrong polling data -- the midstream data that later sampling superceded.

Palast argues that the pollsters had it right before they got it wrong, and that the difference between a Bush win in Ohio (and also New Mexico, Palast argues) is the total provisional ballots plus the spoilage, which would comprise around 450,000 ballots overall. He also asserts that most of the provos resulted from challenges to overwhelmingly minority voters, an argument for which he provides no supporting evidence whatsoever. The strongest Kerry county in Ohio, Cuyahoga (Cleveland's county), only generated 25,000 provos. That's how Palast sets up his hypothesis that if all the provos are counted and the voter intentions somehow divined from the spoiled ballots, Kerry could make up the 136,000-vote difference.

It's a ludicrous argument, and anyone with a lick of common sense could tell you why.

First, even supposing the exit-poll numbers are what Palast claims (and they're not), which sample provides the better accuracy: interviews with 1,000 voters at a few random precincts -- likely all in accessible urban areas -- or 6,000,000 ballots? Based on the larger sample, one would expect the questionable 450,000 ballots to break along the lines of the 6,000,000. Kerry would have to win 293,000 to 157,000, almost a 2-1 margin. Even based on the exit polling, where Kerry was up by four or five points, you'd expect the remainder to split 237K-213K, only taking 24,000 off of Bush's lead.

But let's focus on the nugget of Palast's conspiracy theory: "spoilage". Palast spins such dark malevolence into the term that it's easy to forget what it means -- the voter simply did not follow the instructions. Palast accuses Ohio of using punch-card technology as a means of oppressing voters and maintaining an ability to steal elections, but we've used punch-card technology in most states for decades. People have used punch cards to elect Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, the real JFK, Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, and whole choirs of other liberal politicians. The systems come with a 97%-98% success rate, a pretty good achievement for machines that get used in high numbers only once every two years.

Palast claims that more people went into the booth in Ohio intending on voting for John Kerry than George Bush. How he manages to divine that goes without explanation, but as in Florida in 2000, it's not intent that matters -- it's results, and for good reason. Election officials can judge results objectively. Even in a punch-card system, voters can check their ballot to make sure they handled it properly, and if they question its validity, they can ask for a replacement ballot and start over. Creating a valid ballot is the responsibility of the voter, and if the voter can't be bothered to double-check his work, then he disenfranchises himself.

I'll put it another way: if a voter cannot be held responsible for marking a ballot properly, why would we think that the electorate can make a responsible decision on who to elect?

In truth, as Rocket notes, Palast is being intellectually dishonest. He doesn't care about spoilage, or else he'd be checking Wisconsin, where pre-election polling put Bush ahead, or Iowa, or even Pennsylvania, where the margin of votes putting Kerry up on Bush was even smaller than Ohio (127,000 votes). He's using statistically suspect exit polling and intellectually bankrupt arguments about mishandled ballots because his candidate lost. He's whining, and unfortunately, it appears the left will continue to whine for the next four years just like they did with the last four.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 4, 2004 9:29 PM

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» Daily link assortment from A Physicist's Perspective
Heh. Exit polls in Ohio showed Kerry ahead. "The exit polls are accurate." But vote counts showed Bush ahead. Therefore, the vote count must be wrong (that's at Captain's Quarters, which is quoting this story). Yeah, I've got an idea! Why don't we ju... [Read More]

Tracked on November 5, 2004 11:35 AM



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