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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- January 25, 2005

Has the Case for Election Fraud been Refuted?

Ernest Partridge


The “establishment” response to critics of the election results (a.k.a. “conspiracy nuts”) has been, for the most part – no response. The issue is virtually absent from the commercial media, despite persistent investigation and passionate debate in the internet. When the concerns of the critics do provoke replies from defenders of election outcome, these replies usually take the form of ridicule and insult, or a plea that the critics “get over it” and that “we all move on.” Nonetheless, a few defenders of the fairness and accuracy of the election, respond responsibly to the critics. Even so, these rebuttals fail, as I will attempt to demonstrate below. Good reasons remain to suspect that the Presidential election of 2004 was in fact stolen.

The Florida registration discrepancy. Soon after the election, some sharp-eyed statisticians discovered in the Florida returns extraordinarily large discrepancies between party registrations and the recorded presidential votes. In particular, of the counties using optical scan ballots most had large majorities of Democratic registrations, and yet the voted went overwhelmingly to Bush, which means that “virtually every unaffiliated voter appear[ed] to have gone for Bush.” Practically speaking, this is impossible. In contrast, in the counties using the much-suspected touch-screen machines, the unaffiliated voters split evenly, as expected.  As "The Squanderer" reports, “These two Florida populations who seem to have voted so differently are roughly equivalent in size and relative party strength. Yet the counties with the "optical scan" machines went disproportionately, overwhelmingly, and seemingly illogically, for Bush. What could account for the difference in results? Did the machine itself make the difference, or is there another explanation?” 

That explanation was soon provided by Jasjeet Sekhon of Harvard University, and Jonathan Ward and Walter Mebane of Cornell University, who pointed out that the discrepancy was due to what has come to be called “the Dixiecrat effect” – the inclination of traditional rural Democrats to vote Republican. They write:

The pattern in which counties that have high Democratic registration had high percentage increases in the vote for Bush reflects the fact that all those counties have trended strongly Republican over the past twelve years. The counties are mostly in the Florida Panhandle. Given the voting history and registration trends, these counties seem to have many old-style southern Democrats who have not bothered to change their registration. [EP italics].  (Link lost)

“The Dixiecrat Effect” theory is confirmed by statistics from past elections. However, unfortunately for this argument, the claim that “the counties are mostly in the Florida Panhandle” is simply false, as indicated by the map to the right. Moreover the panhandle counties in question are rural with small populations, and thus do not weigh heavily in the totals.

To further test “the Dixiecrat effect theory,” Elizabeth Liddle excluded the border-panhandle counties by comparing medium-sized counties (populations between 80,000 and 500,000), and found that the registration/voting discrepancy was still evident, though less so than when all counties were included in the calculations. Liddle reports that “I have just repeated my analysis of mid-size counties, this time first of all omitting NW panhandle counties, then omitting al north Florida counties.  The machine effect remains robust.” She concludes, “the apparent machine effect is not confounded by something special happening in north Florida.”  Thus it appears that the attempt to dismiss the registration/voting discrepancy by citing “the Dixiecrat effect,” simply does not “pan out.”

But even if, despite all this rebuttal, the full force of the Sekhon-Ward-Mebane argument is conceded, this by no means proves that the 2004 election was fair. The “Dixiecrat effect” is confined to Florida, and moreover, virtually all the many remaining irregularities (most significantly, the 130,00 to 260,000 advantage to Bush, discovered by the UC Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Team), worked in Bush’s favor, and might together have sufficed to have “stolen” Florida, and thus the Presidency, from John Kerry.

The CalTech/MIT Study. Nine days after the election, the CalTech/MIT “Voting Technology Project” released a report: "Voting Machines and the Underestimate of the Bush Vote."  The report concludes that “there is no evidence, based on exit polls, that electronic voting machines were used to steal the 2004 election for President Bush.” Sounds pretty cut and dried, doesn’t it?

But as was the case with Mebane, et al, even if that conclusion is sustained, it does not follow that the election was not “stolen;” only that the theft was not accomplished via individual e-voting machines. And there are reasons to doubt that conclusion, notably the employment by the Project of circular reasoning (discussed below).

Before the election, “black-box-voting” skeptics focused their attention on the threat of “retail hacking” – deliberate software manipulation of each individual touch-screen voting machine (which recorded about 30% of the votes). To be sure, unlike stuffing paper ballot boxes, this software fraud would not require individual attention to each machine. The standard (but secret) software issued by Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia could do the trick, as could a two-way networking of the machines. And the poll workers at the precinct level would be none the wiser.

It turns out that the threat of “black-box-voting” is far more widespread than the critics had earlier feared. The same private Republican-owned corporations that build and code the touch screen machines, also compile the total votes incoming from the local precincts. (See our discussion above of the “Florida registration discrepancy”). One might suppose that the optical screen method would be tamper-proof, since this system utilizes paper ballots. However, independent auditing is possible only if the ballots are made available by the state government officials (in most cases, the Secretaries of State). Otherwise, the system might just as well be “paperless.” In Florida, the Republican Secretary of State, Glenda Hood (handpicked by George Bush’s brother, Governor Jeb Bush), refuses to release the optical scan ballots for inspection.

Far more significant than the individual touch-screen machines are the privately owned, operated and coded computing systems that compile regional and statewide totals. These systems, provided once again by the Diebold and ES&S corporations, compile 80% of the national votes. These systems are vulnerable to “wholesale hacking” in “real time.” Their vulnerability has been publicly demonstrated numerous times, by hackers with wide-ranging technical abilities, from Ph.Ds in Computer Science, down to teen-age computer geeks. The systems can be invaded, the totals altered, and the intruder can exit without leaving a trace of the invasion and tampering – all within a few seconds. In one famous instance, Bev Harris did just that on a live TV program, hosted by Howard Dean.

Obviously, we have gone far beyond the issue of whether individual touch-screen machines can be tampered with. And the CalTech/MIT study was confined to the question of “retail hacking.” The larger, and far more likely problem of “wholesale hacking” was not dealt with in this study.

However, the CalTech/MIT study has a far more serious flaw: it treats the “later exit polls” as predictors of the election, as it then points to the close correlation between the late polls and the “official” final results as validation of the election.

In fact: the early and the late exit polls are different in kind, and not degree!  The early poll predicts the election, while the later poll is “adjusted” by incorporating the actual election returns. As Farhad Manjoo correctly points out, “The [later] exit polls that are currently on new sites like CNN have been re-weighted to match the final results – a standard practice.” Thus, writes Ron Baiman, "The ‘final’ numbers are not mean to be independent predictors of the outcome but rather a data source on who voted and why.”

Accordingly, as Steven Freeman correctly points out, “The MIT CalTech Voting Project... [concludes] that [the later] exit poll data were consistent with state tallies and that there were no discrepancies based on voting method, including electronic voting systems. But they used these adjusted data to validate the process. In other words, they used data in which the count is assumed correct to prove that the count is correct.” (EP’s Italics)

This is what logicians call a “circular argument,” whereby one assumes what one proposes to prove. (For example, a prosecutor’s opening statement: “we will prove that this murderer is guilty as charged.”).  In the CalTech/MIT case, the late polls, which were "adjusted" to conform to the official returns, are presented as "proof" of the accuracy of the returns.  And so, as one reads the CalTech/MIT study with this fallacy in mind, the critical reader will find that the arguments and the conclusions of that study collapse.

It is impossible to overstate the significance of the error of treating the later poll as a “refinement”of the earlier and as a predictor of the election. This error is employed repeatedly, albeit fallaciously, by those who cite the late poll as “proof” that the election was fair and accurate.

Finally, and quite amazingly, the study makes an “apples and oranges” comparison of pre-election opinion polls with exit polls, thus presuming to diminish the significance of the troublesome gap between the early exit poll predictions and the final reported outcomes in the “battleground states.” (pp 2-3) But of course, opinion polls and exit polls are radically different. Opinion polls rely on the subjects’ report of how they intend to vote. Exit polls report how the subjects have in fact voted. Thus, while opinion polls typically have margins of error of several percentage points, the margins of error of exit polls rarely exceed one point. Because they have proven to be extraordinarily accurate and dependable indicators of actual votes, exit polls are often employed as “checks” of the legitimacy of elections. And when there is a marked discrepancy, they can lead to a rejection of the election results, as was the case recently in the Republic of Georgia and Ukraine. But not, unfortunately, in the United States of America. The proven accuracy and reliability of exit polls, combined with the extraordinary gap between these polls and the official totals in the “battleground states” of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania have, in the hands of some capable statisticians, yielded compelling evidence of fraud in the election. (See “Freeman and Baiman Revisited,” below).


Farhad Manjoo at Salon.com recapitulates many of the defenses of the conventional view that I discuss elsewhere in this article, so there is no need to repeat them here. However, one of his defenses of the legitimacy of the election deserves special attention. 

Manjoo cites the Ohio statistics that John Kerry gave as the reason for his concession:

On Nov. 4 ... the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that there are only about 93,000 spoiled ballots in Ohio. There were also about 155,000 provisional ballots cast in the state -- votes cast as a last resort by people whose names could not be found on registration rolls when they went to the polls. Bush is currently leading Kerry by about 136,000 votes in Ohio. For Kerry to win, then, Ohio would have to have a way to count all 248,000 outstanding discarded and provisional votes -- which isn't going to happen -- and then 77 percent of those ballots would have to go to Kerry. Such an outcome is all but impossible.

But if the number of unexamined spoiled and provisional ballots was insufficient to change the outcome, does this prove that Kerry did not lose due to an alleged “rigging” of the Ohio election?

Of course not. If Kenneth Blackwell and his accomplices stole the Ohio election, the dastardly deed was accomplished through a multi-front campaign, including vote suppression, “lost” ballots, and perhaps hacked e-voting and compiling machines.

In short, Manjoo, like many defenders of the conventional view, seems to assume that if none of the irregularities, separately, will overturn an election, then the election result is as it should be. And so we hear, over and over, “this was not enough to affect the outcome.” It does not seem to occur to these advocates that a multitude of electoral shenanigans can together add up to a stolen election. The same fallacy was prominent in the apologetics for Bush’s alleged “win” in Florida in 2000, and again in 2004.

Russ Baker displays a paradigm example of the smarmy contempt heaped upon the skeptics by the defenders of “the official view.” Baker thus begins
his TomPaine.com article:

Many of us fear that the Ohio election was stolen because people—like talk show sleuths, blogger number-crunchers, forensic attorneys, crusading professors and partisan activists—keep telling us so. We don't even know most of these people, yet we gladly forward their e-mails and Web links, their pronouncements, analyses, essays and statistical exercises. While their credentials may not be that impressive, we listen to their conspiracy theories because—frightened by the direction our country has taken—we want to believe them.

We “fear” a stolen election “because people ... keep telling us so?”  No!, we suspect fraud on the basis of compelling evidence. It is the “establishment” that is attempting to convince the public that the election was copasetic, on little more than repeated “say-so.”

We “don’t know who these people are?” “Their credentials may not be that impressive”? Pay attention, Mr. Baker, while we introduce just a few of “these people” (i.e., “crusading professors”) and cite their “credentials.” Dr. Steven Freeman  (University of Pennsylvania), Dr. Peter Caithamer (University of Southern Indiana), Dr. Ron Baiman, (University of Chicago), Dr. David Dill  (Stanford University),  Dr. Avi Rubin (Johns Hopkins University), and many, many more.  But you get the point. (For long lists of articles and links dealing with Electoral Integrity and Election 2004 Fraud see The Crisis Papers).

Baker then cites his investigations of several “charges” made by the skeptics. Consider this one: “Charge: Miscounting of absentee votes. Finding: False.” His evidence? The testimony of one – just one – witness to one – just one – event.

There’s more to this article, but having seen this much, why bother to continue?


Mitofsky’s Cop-Out. The gap between the early exit polls in the battleground states, and the official announced results presents Warren Mitofsky, the chief guru of the exit polling organization (NEP), with an excruciating dilemma: either the polls were accurate, in which case there is something criminally rotten in the state of Ohio (and Florida, and Pennsylvania, etc.), or, on the other hand, the administering of the polling and/or in the compiling of the data was horribly botched.

Mitovsky, who is no fool, has chosen the second alternative: he is willing to take his lumps and affirm the validity of the official election tallies. Crossing the GOP and the White House is just not a good business decision. How then does he explain the gap? According to USA Today, “Kerry’s supporters were more willing to participate than Bush’s. Also the people they hired to quiz voters were on average to young and too inexperienced and needed more training.” In addition, “early results were skewed by a ‘programming error’ that led to including too many female voters.”  (Link lost). And “Some local officials prevented interviewers from getting close to voters.” There’s more, but that’s the gist of it.

These explanations betray a hint of desperation – as if they were concocted to serve a pre-defined purpose: explaining (away) those discrepancies between the early polls and the reported votes. These are, strictly speaking, not “explanations at all,” they are hunches. And unless and until independent evidence is produced to support these suppositions, there is simply no reason to believe them. And no independent evidence has been produce. (Freeman , pp. 13-16, addresses and debunks most of these alleged “explanations” of the discrepancies.  And this just in!  Mark Blumenthal reports a study which appears to debunk the "reluctant Bush voter theory).

It gets worse, as the “explanations” generate further troublesome questions:

(1) Why are the greatest discrepancies in the crucial “battleground states,” while the results in the “safe states” are within the margin of error. Why does it just happen that the interviewers in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania were incompetent, while the interviewers in (for example) non-contested states such as Maine, Maryland and Montana were so brilliantly competent that they came up with statistical bulls-eyes? (Follow this link, then search "truthisall")

(2) Similarly, what is it about the Bush supporters in Ohio (etc.) that makes them embarrassed to admit their preference, while the voters in Maryland (etc.) have no such reticence?

(3) Why was the “shift” from the exit polls to the final results in 42 states toward Bush, while the in the exceptional nine states, the shifts were all within the margin of error. (See Figure 2, below).

Despite these nagging questions, the “conventional wisdom” must be upheld at all costs: Bush won fair and square. And if, despite the best efforts of the GOP and the media, public discussion of “the exit poll puzzle” cannot be avoided, that discussion must be contained within the “official” frame. Thus, for example, the USA Today article begins: “The exit polls of voters on Election Day so overstated Sen. John Kerry’s support....” The very notion that the polls were accurate and that they disclosed a massive fraud (as in the Ukrainian elections) is, well, just not to be discussed in polite company.

Freeman and Baiman Revisited.

Dr. Steven F. Freeman, (Ph.D, MIT) of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Organizational Dynamics (described by Farhad Manjoo as “an amateur”), has created a sensation in the internet with his research report, "The Unexplained Exit Poll Discrepancy". In his latest version of the report, dated December 29, 2004, Freeman calculates the odds against the discrepancies in the Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania polls occurring together and at random to be 662,000 to one. In effect, statistically impossible.

Freeman’s paper is brief and accessible to the non-technical reader. (Excluding tables and figures, it is about a dozen pages long). It should be read by anyone with more than a casual interest in the issue of the integrity of the 2004 election. These are his conclusions:

In this report, I have: (1) documented that, in general, [early] exit poll data are sound, (2) demonstrated that it is exceedingly unlikely that the deviations between exit poll predictions and vote tallies in the three critical battleground states [Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio] could have occurred strictly by chance or random error, and (3) explained why explanations for the discrepancy thus far provided are inadequate...

Given that neither the pollsters nor their media clients have provided solid explanations to the public, suspicion of mistabulation or even fraud is running rampant and unchecked. The fact that so many people suspect misplay undermines not only the legitimacy of the presidency, but faith in the foundations of the democracy.

Systematic fraud or mistabulation is as yet an unfounded conclusion, but the election’s unexplained exit poll discrepancies make it an unavoidable hypothesis, one that is the responsibility of the media, academia, polling agencies, and the public to investigate.

In a concurring paper, Dr. Ron Baiman, a research statistician at the University of Chicago, argues that “exit polls leave little doubt that in a free and fair election John Kerry would have won both the electoral college and the popular vote.” This too is a “must read.” Dr. Baiman concludes.

These unexplained statistical anomalies in the vote count in critical states, such as Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, and in the national popular vote for the 2004 Presidential elections, indicate:

a) Implausibly erroneous exit sampling especially for the national sample and for the most critical states where one would have expected pollsters to be most careful, and/or

b) Election fraud and/or discriminatory voter suppression that resulted in a in an election result in Ohio, Florida, and other states, and in the national popular vote outcome, that is contrary to what would have occurred in a free and fair election.

I conclude that, based on the best exit sample data currently available, neither the national popular vote, or many of the certified state election results, are credible and should not be regarded as a true reflection of the intent of national electorate...


In Conclusion: Despite the firm empirical and statistical foundations of the critics’ case, the conventional spin-meisters have decisively won the early rounds of this contest, as even such progressive stalwarts as Bernie Sanders, Al Franken, Paul Begala, and most of all, John Kerry, “concede” that Bush won the election “fair and square.” Once again, the Repubs, with the invaluable assistance of the corporate media, have succeeded in “framing” the issue to their advantage, as the critics have been effectively banished from polite political society and discourse. And so, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional and Senate Campaign Committees proceed, firm on the assumption that they’ve got a “good shot” at retaking the Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. Implicit in these assumptions, is the belief that these will be fair elections. But if they are not, then the Democrats will be wasting their time and their contributors’ money. The results of these “elections” will be pre-ordained.

But facts are persistent things, and “truth crushed to earth will rise again,” unless, of course, the critics surrender and abandon the contest. Crimes engender cover-ups and conspiracies have a tendency to unravel, especially when they are doggedly investigated. Such investigations on the Federal level are, of course, out of the question. However, federal elections are administered by the states, thus opportunities are available for investigation by state, county and municipal prosecutors.

Meanwhile, we are left with a residue of unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable, questions about this election – questions which probe into the heart of the issue. These are questions which, if persistently thrown against the barricades of “conventional wisdom,” may erode the foundations of the malignant Bush regime and eventually bring it down.

In my next essay, I will list some of these questions, examine their implications, and suggest how they might be employed as weapons against the emerging theocratic-corporate oligarchy that is the current United States government.


Copyright 2005, by Ernest Partridge

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .