Tuesday, August 17 2004
Paul Krugman suggests this morning that "there is a substantial chance that the result of the 2004 presidential election will be suspect."

You might be inclined to dismiss his column as another example that the Ivy League econ prof is off his meds. Not true. Krugman is quite cannily (and preemptively) arguing that a Bush victory in Florida will be illegitimate:

When I say that the result will be suspect, I don't mean that the election will, in fact, have been stolen. (We may never know.) I mean that there will be sufficient uncertainty about the honesty of the vote count that much of the world and many Americans will have serious doubts.

How might the election result be suspect? Well, to take only one of several possibilities, suppose that Florida - where recent polls give John Kerry the lead - once again swings the election to George Bush.

Much of Florida's vote will be counted by electronic voting machines with no paper trails. Independent computer scientists who have examined some of these machines' programming code are appalled at the security flaws. So there will be reasonable doubts about whether Florida's votes were properly counted, and no paper ballots to recount. The public will have to take the result on faith. (emphasis added)

Krugman goes on to insinuate there is a concerted effort by Governor Jeb Bush to suppress the black vote and then declares, "given this pattern, there will be skepticism if Florida's paperless voting machines give President Bush an upset, uncheckable victory."

So Krugman is concluding, based on a couple of polls in Florida taken right after the Democratic National Convention showing Kerry ahead, that if Bush wins Florida in November it will be considered an "upset"- and an "uncheckable" one at that. This is a deeply disingenuous and dishonest statement.

Let's flesh out some facts. Broward and Miami-Dade counties are now working with touch-screen voting machines by Election Systems & Software (ES&S). Palm Beach County decided to purchase touch screen-machines from Sequoia Voting Systems.

Just last week 418 touch-screen machines in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties were tested before an audience of national television crews and various state officials. The results: all machines counted with 100% accuracy.

This isn't to say there haven't been mistakes, which are naturally viewed with a heightened sensitivity in Florida. But those mistakes, including a recent error on printed ballots, a mix up in a County Commissioner race, and even some problems in 2002, were due almost entirely to human error.

But Krugman doesn't mention human error. Nor does he mention the fact that, as in 2000, a vast majority of the local officials supervising the election process in Florida are Democrats.

Instead Krugman implies there will be far more nefarious factors at work - including the rather paranoid suggestions that hackers and/or partisans loyal to President Bush could program touch-screen voting machines to perform perfectly during public testing but then somehow be reprogrammed to skew in favor of Bush on election day.

As Krugman points out, Democratic paranoia in Florida is driven mainly by the fact that the new touch-screen voting machines provide no "paper trail." But according to this press release from Sequoia, each of their machines "already allows the printing of ballots for recount and audit purposes."

(LATE UPDATE: In a related article out today, Dr. Michael I. Shamos of the Institute for Software Research at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh told a Virginia legislative committee that electronic voting machines have been used for 25 years without a "single verified incident of tampering.")

Nevertheless, earlier this year Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler filed suit to try and force election officials to retrofit all touch screen voting machines with printers. Last week Democratic State Senator Ron Klein urged Governor Bush force the 15 counties equipped with touch-screen voting machines to provide voters with the option of casting paper absentee ballots.

Theresa LePore - the now famous Democrat Election Supervisor from Palm Beach County - called Klein's proposal, "the most absurd thing I've heard yet."

Here's the rest of the exchange between LePore and Klein, which I can't emphasize enough comes from a Democrat who is on the ground and responsible for supervising the election process:

"We've got four optical scanner machines and 700 precincts," a clearly exasperated Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore said. "How are we going to do it?"

"It's not such a huge list for the supervisors to expand this," Klein said in Tallahassee on Thursday morning. "We're just trying to make it easier for voters."

But LePore, reached in West Palm Beach, said what Klein was asking was a big deal. In addition to having to buy at least 696 more optical-scan machines, Palm Beach County would have to print enough paper ballots for the county's 710,000 voters and distribute nearly 200 variations of the ballot to different precincts.

All that, she said, would "guarantee" disaster.

"If they want problems, this is the way to have problems. They keep predicting there's going to be chaos and doom and gloom and debacle — this will guarantee it," LePore said.

LePore's outrage grew as she went on for several minutes, claiming that the Democrats' interest in the machines is less about voters' rights than it is about politics — particularly those involving her race for reelection Aug. 31.

"It's me," she said when asked why the Democrats were pursuing the changes. "I followed the laws and did what I'm supposed to do, and they can't stand that. They are doing such a disservice to the voters of this state by predicting all these problems. What's going to end up happening is people aren't going to come out to vote on election day.

"Unfortunately, both parties are doing it, but more so on the Democratic Party side all over the country. They're lining their ducks up in a row, getting ready for the lawsuits that they're going to file so that when mistakes start happening they can point their finger and say, I told you so."

And that, my friends, is exactly what Paul Krugman is doing. Sowing seeds of fear, doubt and illegitimacy in advance of a possible Bush victory in Florida.

Too bad for Krugman the facts don't support such lunacy. A recently completed study of the 2002 Florida elections showed that while touch-screen machines produce a higher rate of undervotes than optical-scanning machines, both are dramatically more accurate than the punch card ballots used in 2000 - with paper trail and all:

The report is required of the division following every general election as a result of the 2001 elections reform law passed after the contentious 2000 presidential election.

It concluded that the use of both systems helped reduce the error rate from the 2000 election.

"Overall, the percentage of uncounted ballots decreased from 2.93 percent in the 2000 election presidential election to 0.86 in the 2002 gubernatorial election," the report stated, adding that the error for the now-infamous punch-card machines in 2000 was 3.93 percent.

One final thing. As to Krugman's slanderous insinuation that Jeb Bush is working to suppress the black vote and may possibly be involved in the impending touch-screen voting heist this November, there's this little tidbit from the aforementioned report:

That higher undervote rate was actually foreshadowed by Gov. Jeb Bush's election reform task force, which in 2001 recommended optical scan machines for all Florida counties for the 2002 elections, leaving open the option of touch-screen machines for future years, as the technology improved...

Notwithstanding these recommendations, election machine manufacturers, hiring top lobbyists, successfully sold the state's largest counties on the touch-screen machines, which cost several times as much as optical-scan units.

So there you have it. The only question left is this: when did the NY Times opinion page decide to make itself an appropriate venue for partisans to peddle unfounded, misleading, and paranoid conspiracy theories? On second thought, don't answer that. - T. Bevan 10:52 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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