December 8, 2000


Commentary

What did the voters intend?

by Robert Linnell

Everyone agrees that in our democracy every vote should count.The disagreement is on how to collect and count these votes. Political emotions seem dominant in Florida. Each side cites out of context bits of information for support. What are the relevant facts?

Punch cards are 1960 technology. William Rouverol, a designer of the Votomatic punch card voting machine, states that rubber strips wear out. These strips, essential for a clean punch, sit below the voting card; when worn they create"hanging" or "dimpled (pregnant)" chads. In Palm Beach, the problem with dimpled chads "could be worse" because of newer plastic strips. In sworn testimony Rouverol said, "I do not believe that a voter's inability to punch out chads in one column should have any bearing on their inability to do so in another column. In my opinion, dimpled or pregnant chads, if the only discernible mark for a given race in a given column, should qualify as a vote." His design rejected the controversial butterfly layout because it "complicates the act of voting" because of potential chad build up.

Former Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, Jackie Winchester says that several years ago "inferior" plastic strips replaced the rubber; although replaced, new units also used plastic. "It is also my considered opinion that this harder plastic material could cause difficulties for voters in punching clean holes, especially in the first column of the punch card.This could easily result in difficulty in punching chads. For this reason, in municipal elections, with fewer offices on the ballot, I did not use the first punch-card column when laying out the ballot," Winchester stated.

Wall Street Journal reporter, Lee Gomes, tested the claim that chads could be pushed out inadvertently as ballots are repeatedly handled. He secured a typical voting punch card and did the following tests: dropping it 10 times from a height of 7 feet; attaching the ballot to the blade of a room fan and running it 2 minutes; whacking the ballot sharply against the edge of a table 10 times; running it in a clothes drier 10 minutes; placing it in a microwave running for 10 minutes at full power; rolling into a cigar held for one minute, repeating in the opposite direction; likewise rolling lengthwise and finally smoothing it out and driving over it 10 times with an auto. In all these tests the chads remained intact. He concludes, "An intact chad seems highly unlikely to have come loose unless a voter, or someone else, deliberately poked it out."

Statistics professor Nicholas Hengartner (Yale) analyzed the "undervotes" in 48 Florida counties.Those using optical scans had undervotes of 3 per 1,000 whereas those using punch cards had 15 per 1,000. Hengartner says attributing this five-fold increase to chance alone is less likely than being hit by lightning five times. In Palm Beach County the rate was even higher at 22 per 1,000, essentially a zero chance event. Another statistics professor (Carnegie Mellon) analyzed Buchanan voting patterns throughout Florida concluding that in Palm Beach County there were from 2600-2800 votes for Buchanan that were intended for Gore. Why were no-votes for president much lower in counties carried by Bush than in those carried by Gore? The answer is that Gore votes came largely from punch card counties whereas more Bush votes came from counties using more accurate voting machines. If undervotes in Gore counties were as low as in Bush counties, Gore would have a clear Florida victory.

In Miami-Dade precincts where blacks predominate ballots were thrown out at four times that of white precincts; 90 per 1,000 votes were thrown out in black precincts, a total of 9,904. In exit polls over 93% of black votes went for Gore. If these black votes had been counted the same as others in Miami-Dade, a gain of about 7,000 votes for Gore would result. There are troubling racial issues here. On election day, prior to the contested Florida results, there were hundreds of complaints from blacks who tried but were unable to vote as well as from voters in Palm Beach who voted incorrectly because of the butterfly ballot.

In Seminole County, Democrats joined Republicans hand counting "uncounted ballots" which gave Bush 98 additional votes, almost one quarter of the final Certified Bush lead of 537 votes for the entire state. But Republicans have fought violently to stop hand recounts in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. The reason is apparent. If all chads are counted, and most experts agree pregnant chads should be included, the intent of Florida voters would probably favor Gore by 10,000 or more. This is a slim margin but nearly 20 times the current Bush 537. We need to complete the more accurate hand recounts to determine the voters' real intent.The courts must then decide if this intent will be honored. Note: The data presented above has been obtained from various sources, most importantly a New York Times analysis of Florida voting patterns and Boston Globe data.We acknowledge these sources with thanks.

Reproduced with permission from: www.my-oped.com.

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