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Friday, November 24, 2006

Paul Krugman: When Votes Disappear

Paul Krugman wonders why, with "as clear a demonstration as we’re ever likely to see that warnings ... about the dangers of paperless electronic voting are valid," there has been so little national attention devoted to the issue:

When Votes Disappear, by Paul Krugman, Missing Votes, Commentary, NY Times: You know what really had me terrified on Nov. 7? The all-too-real possibility of a highly suspect result. What would we have done if the Republicans had held on to the House by a narrow margin, but circumstantial evidence strongly suggested that a combination of vote suppression and defective — or rigged — electronic voting machines made the difference?

Fortunately, it wasn’t a close election. But ...[t]here were many problems with voting in this election — and in ... one Congressional race, the evidence strongly suggests that paperless voting machines ... delivered the race to the wrong candidate.

Here’s the background: Florida’s 13th Congressional District is currently represented by Katherine Harris, who as Florida’s secretary of state during the 2000 recount famously acted as a partisan Republican... This year Ms. Harris didn’t run for re-election, making an unsuccessful bid for the Senate instead. But according to the official vote count, the Republicans held on to her seat, with Vern Buchanan ... narrowly defeating Christine Jennings, the Democrat.

The problem is that the official vote count isn’t credible. In much of the 13th District, the voting pattern looks normal. But in Sarasota County, which used touch-screen voting machines ..., almost 18,000 voters — nearly 15 percent of those who cast ballots using the machines — supposedly failed to vote for either candidate.... That compares with undervote rates ranging from 2.2 to 5.3 percent in neighboring counties.

Reporting by The Herald-Tribune ... strongly suggests that the huge apparent undervote was caused by bugs in the ... software. About a third of those interviewed ... reported that they couldn’t even find the Congressional race on the screen. ... Moreover, more than 60 percent of those interviewed ... reported that they did cast a vote in the Congressional race — but that this vote didn’t show up on the ballot summary...

If there were bugs in the software, the odds are that they threw the election to the wrong candidate. An Orlando Sentinel examination of other votes cast by those who supposedly failed to cast a vote ... shows that they strongly favored Democrats, and Mr. Buchanan won the official count by only 369 votes. ...

Although state officials have ... promised an audit of the voting machines ..., don’t get your hopes up: as in 2000, state election officials aren’t even trying to look impartial. To oversee the audit, the state has chosen as its “independent” expert Prof. Alec Yasinsac of Florida State University — a Republican partisan who made an appearance on the steps of the Florida Supreme Court during the 2000 recount battle wearing a “Bush Won” sign. ...

[F]or the nation as a whole, the important thing ...[is] whether the voting disaster ... leads to legislation requiring voter verification and a paper trail. ...[T]he omens aren’t good. I’ve been shocked at how little national attention the mess in Sarasota has received. Here we have as clear a demonstration as we’re ever likely to see that warnings from computer scientists about the dangers of paperless electronic voting are valid — and most Americans probably haven’t even heard about it.

As far as I can tell, the reason Florida-13 hasn’t become a major national story is that neither control of Congress nor control of the White House is on the line. But do we have to wait for a constitutional crisis to realize that we’re in danger of becoming a digital-age banana republic?

Previous (11/13) column: Paul Krugman: True Blue Populists
Next (12/1) column: Paul Krugman: Economic Storm Signals

    Posted by on Friday, November 24, 2006 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (22)


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    Tracked on Thursday, November 30, 2006 at 10:48 PM


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