Ohio Dems joins recount effort
Keith Olbermann (Bloggermann), November 21, 2004 | 5:51 p.m. ET
SECAUCUS— The headline might be a little expansive since the national headquarters has not yet echoed it, but it’s still pretty impressive as it is:
“Kerry/Edwards Campaign Joins Ohio Recount.”
The news release was issued this afternoon over the signature of Ohio’s Democratic chairman, Dennis White: “As Senator Kerry stated in his concession speech in Boston, we do not necessarily expect the results of the election to change, however, we believe it necessary to make sure everyone’s vote is counted fairly and accurately.” White called for witnesses, volunteers, and donations.
The statement ends nearly three weeks of official Democratic ambivalence towards the formal recount process in the election’s decisive state. As late as Friday, Senator Kerry’s email to 3,000,000 supporters contained a seemingly ambiguous reference to that process, which began with the phrase “Regardless of the outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted, and believe me they will be counted, we will continue to challenge the administration.”
It had been left to the independent parties, the Greens and Libertarians, to do the initial work demanding a recount in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. Their combined effort led to a bond of $113,600 being posted with the state last Friday to guarantee the coverage of expenses incurred. Just today, the “Glibs” amplified their demands in Ohio, filing a federal lawsuit that, if successful, would require the completion of the “full, hand recount” before the meeting of the Electoral College on December 13.
The Ohio Democrats did not attach themselves to the lawsuit. “The recount can begin after the official results are certified, which likely will be in the first week of December,” reads the news release. “The Democratic party wants to be fully prepared to begin a recount immediately.”
Howard Fineman joins me on Countdown tonight at 8 and Midnight eastern to discuss the ramifications.
• November 21, 2004 | 5:51 p.m. ET
Relax about Ohio, Relax about the guy tailing me (Keith Olbermann)
NEW YORK— Anybody else notice that when you politely refer to the Secretary of State of Ohio, you have to call him “Mr. Blackwell,” just like that guy who compiles the goofy worst-dressed list?
Mr. Kenneth Blackwell is the subject of three actions regarding the Ohio vote that you haven’t seen on television yet. Each (the Cobb/Badnarik Recount bid, the Alliance for Democracy legal challenge, and the Ohio Democratic Party suit over provisional ballots) has an undertone suggesting time is of the essence, and that he is wasting it. The accusation may or may not be true, but it also may or may not be relevant.
The Glibs’ recount effort was underscored last week by their letters to Blackwell insisting he hurry up and finish certifying the count well before the announced deadline of December 6, because otherwise, there won’t be enough time for the recount before the voting of the Electoral College on December 13. The Alliance attorney Clifford Arnebeck told The Columbus Dispatch that his quite separate legal challenge to the election must be addressed immediately because “time is critical.” The local Democrats haven’t been commenting on their low-flying suit – more about that later. They’re just smiling quietly to themselves.
Cobb, Badnarik, Arnebeck, and everybody else actually has more time than they think. I addressed this topic with the wonderfully knowledgeable George Washington University Constitutional Law professor, Jonathan Turley, back on Countdown on November 9th. He noted the election process is a little slower— and has one more major loophole— than is generally known. It begins on December 7th, the date “when you essentially certify your electors… it gives a presumption to the legitimacy to your votes. And then, on the 13th, the electors actually vote.”
But, Turley noted, “those votes are not opened by Congress until January 6. Now, if there are controversies, such as some disclosure that a state actually went for Kerry (instead of Bush), there is the ability of members of Congress to challenge.” In other words, even after the December 13th Electoral College Vote, in the extremely unlikely scenario that a court overturns the Ohio count, or that the recount discovers 4,000 Gahanna-style machines that each recorded 4,000 votes too many for one candidate, there is still a mechanism to correct the error, honest or otherwise.
“It requires a written objection from one House member and one senator,” Turley continues. Once that objection is raised, the joint meeting of the two houses is discontinued. “Then both Houses separate again and they vote by majority vote as to whether to accept the slate of electoral votes from that state.”
In these super-heated partisan times, it may seem like just another prospective process decided by majority rule instead of fact. But envision the far-fetched scenario of some dramatic, conclusive new result from Ohio turning up around, say, January 4th. What congressman or senator in his right mind would vote to seat the candidate who lost the popular vote in Ohio? We wouldn’t be talking about party loyalty any more – we’d be talking about pure political self-interest here, and whenever in our history that critical mass has been achieved, it’s been every politician for himself (ask Barry Goldwater when Richard Nixon trolled for his support in July and August, 1974, or Republican Senator Edmund Ross of Kansas when his was to be the decisive vote that would have impeached President Andrew Johnson in 1868).
The point of this dip into the world of political science fiction is that the Ohio timeframe is a little less condensed than it seems. The drop-dead date is not December 13, but January 6.
It is noteworthy that the announcement of a legal challenge made it into weekend editions of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Columbus Dispatch, the Associated Press wires, and other publications. The Columbus paper even mentioned something curious. “Earlier this week, the Ohio Democratic party announced it would join a lawsuit arguing that the state lacks clear rules for evaluating provisional ballots, a move the party said will keep its options open if problems with the ballots surface.”
This makes a little more sense out of a confusing item that appeared in an obscure weekly paper in Westchester County, New York, last Wednesday, in which a reporter named Adam Stone wrote “A top-ranking official with Democratic Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign told North County News last week that although unlikely, there is a recount effort being waged that could unseat Republican President George Bush.” Stone quotes Kerry spokesman David Wade as saying: “We have 17,000 lawyers working on this, and the grassroots accountability couldn’t be any higher – no (irregularity) will go unchecked. Period.” Gives a little context to Senator Kerry’s opaque mass e-mail and on-line video statement from Friday afternoon.
The Ohio newspaper coverage suggests that even the mainstream media is beginning to sit up and take notice that, whatever its merits, the investigation into the voting irregularities of November 2nd has moved from the Reynolds Wrap Hat stage into legal and governmental action. Tripe does continue to appear, like Carol Pogash’s column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. Its headline provided me with a laugh: “Liberals, the election is over, live with it.” I’ve gotten 37,000 emails in the last two weeks (now running at better than 25:1 in favor), and the two most repeated comments by those critical of the coverage have been references to the ratings of Fox News Channel, and the phrase “the election is over, (expletive deleted), live with it. I hesitate to generalize, but this does suggest a certain unwillingness of critics to engage in political discourses that don’t have no swear words in ‘em.
Meantime, The Oakland Tribune not only devoted seventeen paragraphs Friday to the UC Berkeley study on the voting curiosities in Florida, but actually expended considerable energy towards what we used to call ‘advancing the story’: “The UC Berkeley report has not been peer reviewed, but a reputable MIT political scientist succeeded in replicating the analysis Thursday at the request of the Oakland Tribune and The Associated Press. He said an investigation is warranted.”
In fact, he – MIT Arts and Social Sciences Dean Charles Stewart – said more than that. “There is an interesting pattern here that I hope someone looks into.” Stewart is part of the same Cal Tech/MIT Voting Project that had earlier issued a preliminary report suggesting that there was no evidence of significant voting irregularity in Florida. Dean Stewart added he didn’t necessarily buy the Berkeley conclusion – that the only variable that could explain the “excessive” votes in Florida was poisoned touch-screen voting – and still thought there were other options, such as, in the words of The Tribune’s Ian Hoffman “absentee voting or some quirk of election administration.”
Neither MIT nor Cal Tech has yet responded to the comments of several poll-savvy commentators, and others, that its paper was using erroneous statistics. Its premise, you’ll recall, was that on a state-by-state basis, the notorious 2004 Exit Polls were within the margin of error and could be mathematically interpreted as having forecast the announced presidential outcome. It has been observed that the MIT/Cal Tech study used not the “raw” exit polls – as did Professor Steven Freeman of Penn did in his study – but rather the “weighted” polls, in which actual precinct and county official counts are mixed in to “correct” the organic “Hey, Buddy, who’d you vote for” numbers. The “weighted” polls have been analogized to a football handicapper predicting that the New Orleans Saints would beat the Denver Broncos 24-14, then, after the Broncos scored twenty points in the first quarter, announcing his prediction was now that the Saints would beat the Broncos 42-41, or even, that the Broncos would beat the Saints 40-7.
None of the coverage of the Berkeley study clarified a vitally important point about its conclusions regarding the touch-screen wobble in the fifteen Florida counties, and that has led to some unjustified optimism on the activist and Democratic sides. Its math produced two distinct numbers for “ghost votes” for President Bush: 130,000 and 260,000. This has led to the assumption in many quarters that Cal Tech has suggested as many as 260,000 Florida votes could swing from Bush to Kerry (enough to overturn the state). In fact – and the academics got a little too academic in summarizing their report and thus, this kind of got lost – the two numbers already consider the prospect of a swing:
a) There may have been 130,000 votes simply added to the Bush total. If proved and excised, they would reduce the President’s Florida margin from approximately 350,000 votes to approximately 220,000;
b) There may have been 130,000 votes switched from Kerry to Bush. If proved and corrected, they would reduce (by double the 130,000 figure – namely 260,000) the President’s Florida margin from approximately 350,000 votes to approximately 90,000.
On the ground in Florida, uncounted ballots continue to turn up in Pinellas County. Last Monday, an unmarked banker’s box with 268 absentee ballots was discovered “sitting in plain sight on an office floor, with papers and other boxes stacked on top of it,” according to The St. Petersburg Times. On Friday, the same paper reported that County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark found twelve more—ten provisionals in a blue pouch at a loading dock, and two absentees in a box headed for a storage facility. “I’m sick about this,” the paper quoted Clark, whose office also whiffed on 1400 absentee ballots on Election Day 2000, and counted another 600 twice. Asked by a reporter if the election is over, she replied “I certainly hope so.”
Well, I know how Ms. Clark feels. To close, a little anecdote from Big Town: I approached Seventh Avenue from the east and the guy in the black trenchcoat was walking north.
He got that little surprised look of recognition in his eyes and said “Keith! How are you?” We shook hands and he added, with apparent nervousness, “I’ll just be tailing you for the next block.” I laughed and said I was used to it.
Now, I’ve been getting recognized in public since 1982, and I had a stalker for eight years who once talked her way into ESPN and wound up being escorted to my desk— so I think I can tell the difference between a fan and a threat (this was a fan; a threat doesn’t come up and announce he’s going to tail you). I relate this just because of the timing. In the last week, I have read that I’ve been fired, suspended, muzzled, threatened (that, I think, was my NBC colleague Kevin Sites, who reported the Marine prisoner shooting in Iraq— our mailbox had a couple of those), and in the middle of it, I get a ‘What’s the frequency Kenneth moment’ from a fan who was just trying to be funny.
The laugh was genuine. As was my decision to cross the street.
Write me at
• November 19, 2004 | 5:39 p.m. ET
Didn’t you run for president once? (Keith Olbermann)
SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION— There has been a John Kerry sighting.
“Regardless of the outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted— and they will be counted— we will continue to challenge this administration,” the 2004 Democratic candidate said in a prepared statement released today. “I will fight for a national standard for federal elections that has both transparency and accountability in our voting system. It is unacceptable in the United States that people still don’t have full confidence in the integrity of the voting process.”
Since his concession, Kerry’s silence on the questions of voting irregularities in Florida, Ohio, and elsewhere, has perplexed those pursuing those questions, helped render largely passive the media who should’ve been doing so, and provided virtual proof to others that there weren’t any questions at all. His supporters have been mystified at news this week that millions of dollars from his war chest went unspent. His lawyers have been characterized as flying below the radar as the Libertarian and Green Parties have pushed their recount in Ohio.
He has seemed to his supporters and many neutrals, in short, as being AWOL.
The statement doesn’t exactly dispel that aroma. It came by way of an e-mail to supporters— but not to the media— and a video on his otherwise update-free campaign website, which maintains the frozen-in-time November 2 front page that makes it look like the political equivalent of Miss Haversham’s cobweb-strewn house in Dickens’ “Great Expectations.”
The primary topic of the mass e-mail isn’t even this election or future ones. It’s about a petition drive for universal child health care legislation Kerry intends to introduce on the first day of the new Congress. Whether the voting stuff was added as a sop to supporters loudly wondering where he— and the unspent $15,000,000— has been, is conjecture.
But the video is just plain weird. The phrasing of the start of the relevant passage—“Regardless of the outcome of this election”— is open to the same kind of parsing and confusion usually reserved for the latest release from Osama Bin Laden. Those seven words are extra-temporal; they are tense-free. In them he could be describing an election long-since decided, or one whose outcome is still in doubt.
And the timing and delivery of the message are equally confusing. No notification to the media? When much of the mechanism of political coverage is kick-started by statements like this one? And its issuance on a Friday afternoon— the moment of minimum news attention so famously titled “Take Out The Trash Day” on the NBC series “The West Wing”?— is perplexing, if not suspicious.
It has the vague feel of deliberate ambiguity, as if Kerry is saying to those who are plagued by doubts about the vote just seventeen days ago, that he agrees with them, but they shouldn’t tell anybody. It’s exactly what these confusing times do not need: more confusion.
• November 19, 2004 | 9:40 a.m. ET
All I know is what I don’t read in the papers (Keith Olbermann)
SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION— I’m beginning to think like Jim Bunning now.
So far in this post-election trip through Alice’s looking glass we’ve had:
—a University of Pennsylvania professor defending the accuracy of exit polling in order damn the accuracy of vote counting;
—a joint CalTech/MIT study defending the accuracy of exit polling in order to confirm the accuracy of vote counting;
—a series of lesser academic works assailing the validity of the Penn and CalTech/MIT assessments;
—and now, a UC Berkeley Research Team report that concludes President Bush may have received up to 260,000 more votes in fifteen Florida counties than he should have, all courtesy the one-armed bandits better known as touch-screen voting systems.
And, save, for one “New York Times” reference to the CalTech/MIT study “disproving” the idea that the exit poll results were so wacky that they required thoroughly botched election nights in several states, the closest any of these research efforts have gotten to the mainstream media have been “Wired News” and “Countdown.”
I still hesitate to endorse the ‘media lock-down’ theory extolled so widely on the net. I’ve expended a lot of space on the facts of political media passivity and exhaustion, and now I’ll add one factor to explain the collective shrugged shoulder: reading this stuff is hard. It’s hard work.
There are, as we know, lies, damn lies, and statistics. But there is one level of hell lower still— scholarly statistical studies. I have made four passes at “The Effect of Electronic Voting Machines on Change in Support for Bush in the 2004 Florida Elections,” and the thing has still got me pinned to the floor.
Most of the paper is so academically dense that it seems to have been written not just in another language, but in some form of code. There is one table captioned “OLS Regression with Robust Standard Errors.” Another is titled “OLS regressions with frequency weights for county size.” Only the summary produced by Professor Michael Hout and the Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Time is intelligible.
Of course, I’m reminded suddenly of the old cartoon, with the guy saying “I don’t understand women,” and the second guy saying, “So? Do you understand electricity?”
In his news conference yesterday at Berkeley (who attended? Who phoned in to the conference call? Why didn’t they try?) Professor Hout analogized the report to a “beeping smoke alarm.” It doesn’t say how bad the fire it is, it doesn’t accuse anybody of arson, it just says somebody ought to have an extinguisher handy.
Without attempting to crack the methodology, it’s clear the researchers claim they’ve compensated for all the bugaboos that hampered the usefulness of previous studies of the county voting results in Florida. They’ve weighted the thing to allow for an individual county’s voting record in both the 2000 and 1996 elections (throwing out the ‘Dixiecrat’ effect), to wash out issues like the varying Hispanic populations, median income, voter turnout change, and the different numbers of people voting in each county.
And they say that when you calculate all that, you are forced to conclude that compared to the Florida counties that used paper ballots, the ones that used electronic voting machines were much more likely to show “excessive votes” for Mr. Bush, and that the statistical odds of this happening organically are less than one in 1,000.
They also say that these “excessives” occurred most prominently in counties where Senator Kerry beat the President most handily. In the Democratic bastion of Broward, where Kerry won by roughly 105,000, they suggest the touch-screens “gave” the President 72,000 more votes than statistical consistency should have allowed. In Miami-Dade (Kerry by 55,000) they saw 19,300 more votes for Bush than expected. In Palm Beach (Kerry by 115,000) they claim Bush got 50,000 more votes than possible.
Hout and his research team consistently insisted they were not alleging that voting was rigged, nor even that what they’ve found actually affected the direction of Florida’s 27 Electoral Votes. They point out that in a worst-case scenario, they see 260,000 “excessives” – and Bush took the state by 350,000 votes. But they insist that based on Florida’s voting patterns in 1996 and 2000, the margin cannot be explained by successful get-out-the-vote campaigns, or income variables, or anything but something rotten in the touch screens.
It’s deep-woods mathematics, and it cries out for people who speak the language and can refute or confirm its value. Kim Zetter, who did an excellent work-up for “Wired News,” got the responses you’d expect from both sides. She quotes Susan Van Houten of Palm Beach’s Coalition for Election Reform as saying “I’ve believed the same thing for a while, that the numbers are screwy, and it looks like they proved it.” She quotes Jill Friedman-Wilson of the touch-screen manufacturer Election Systems & Software (their machines were in use in Broward and Miami-Dade) as responding “If you consider real-world experience, we know that ES&S’ touch-screen voting system has been proven in thousands of elections throughout the country.”
What’s possibly of more interest to us poor laymen is what isn’t in the Berkeley report.
As I mentioned previously, they don’t claim to know how this happened. But more importantly, they say that they ran a similar examination on the voting patterns in Ohio, comparing its paper ballot and electronic results, and found absolutely nothing to suggest either candidate got any “bump” that couldn’t otherwise be explained by past voting patterns, income, turnout, or any other commonplace factor.
In other words: No e-voting machines spontaneously combusting in Ohio.
“For the sake of all future elections involving electronic voting,” Professor Hout concluded, “someone must investigate and explain the statistical anomalies in Florida. We’re calling on voting officials in Florida to take action.”
Anybody want to belly up to this bar?
Thougths? E-mail me at