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Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Another Way of Looking at the Voting Error Issue

By Steven Taylor @ 11:28 am

Basically, part of what I am getting at is this: since there will be error no matter what, the real question should be as follows. What will the estimated error be under the new system, and will the difference between the old error and the new system truly justify the setting aside of the time provisions for the recall as set down by the California state constitution?

Again, one might assume that the choice is between the potential loss of 40,000 or so votes and perfection, but it isn’t. The real choice is between the potential loss of 40,000-some vote and some smaller number. Again: there is vote-counting error in every election.

Filed under: US Politics

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10 Comments»

  1. That’s the question.

    Comment by JohnC — Tuesday, September 16, 2003 @ 3:15 pm

  2. But when machines that appear to be more error prone are concentrated in high-percentage minority areas, as seems to be the case here, you have to admit that some anger and resentment could be justified, and that it would seem to be unfair and not equal treatment. There will always be some error, to be sure. But the distribution of error counts (no pun intended).

    Comment by Brett — Tuesday, September 16, 2003 @ 4:17 pm

  3. I would like to see the actual numbers.

    At any rate, Brett, the unfortunate truth is that regardless of the tech employed, the poor minority precincts will have higher error rates.

    And the irony is that in the Caltech-MIT study, electronic machines had similar error rates to punch-cards, athough, granted, they weren’t all touch-screens in the study.

    Optical scan ballots were the best, but they are considered less accessible by disabled voters…

    And, I do agree that the effort should be made to improve the tech-just not in the middle of an ongoing process.

    Comment by Steven — Tuesday, September 16, 2003 @ 8:13 pm

  4. And John, I really would like the answer to that question. Ultimately my guess is that we are talking about only a marginal increase in “fairness".

    Comment by Steven — Tuesday, September 16, 2003 @ 8:32 pm

  5. That’s what the courts are for. This isn’t something decided by popularity…

    Comment by JohnC — Wednesday, September 17, 2003 @ 11:18 am

  6. Steven:

    The numbers problem is an important one, to be sure. Still, how “marginal” does an improvement need to be in order to be justified? One that makes sure that 10,000 more votes are counted accurately? 5,000? 2,000? And what is the relationship between this number and the margin of victory?

    It’s a really hard question and one that does not admit of a fully “accurate” answer. One of the things that makes me angry about this debate, however, is that it too easy for folks to say that marginal improvements in fairness for other people are not worth the burden on them.

    Comment by Brett — Wednesday, September 17, 2003 @ 1:31 pm

  7. Brett,

    The exact number, and its relative nature to the overall pool, is key. And I am for fairness, but I question the degree to which this is even the real goal here.

    What frustrates me about these kinds of situations is that perceived injustice only becomes a point of contention as a means of thrawting an already ongoing process-this was the last of I think about a dozen attempts by various anti-recall groups to stop the process via the courts. It isn’t as if the injustice was so gross that felt the need, for example, to stop the usage of these machines in 2002.

    Comment by Steven — Wednesday, September 17, 2003 @ 2:05 pm

  8. Steven:

    I just reread your last comment, substituting “Bush’s attacks on the 2000 presidential election recounts” as the topic. ;-)

    More seriously, why should the number “relative to the overall pool” be the important one? Why not relative to the predicted margin of victory? And in general I still think that you haven’t answered the question: what number do you think would be fair? My impression is that it is an unanswerable question because the fairness here depends on the margin of victory, so in any close elections things are going to be contentious. That’s why at the very least it’s worthwhile to have at least an appearance of attempting to count as many votes as accurately as possible. And, again, if it’s your votes that have the possibility of being counted less rigorously, you’re going to be a lot more upset than if it’s the votes of your rivals. An unpleasant fact, but part and parcel of the whole uproar here.

    Comment by Brett — Thursday, September 18, 2003 @ 2:16 pm

  9. Of course, you did raise that question below! I guess you think it’s unanswerable, too. What consequences should one draw from the unanswerability of the question? That’s the interesting problem. . .

    Comment by Brett — Thursday, September 18, 2003 @ 2:20 pm


  10. Comment by Anonymous — Tuesday, August 10, 2004 @ 3:30 pm

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