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Does not compute

Watchdogs want to know: Did every vote count?



Talk radio and the Internet are abuzz with suggestions that John Kerry was elected president on Nov. 2—but Republican election officials made it difficult for millions of Democrats to vote while employees of four secretive, GOP-bankrolled corporations rigged electronic voting machines and then hacked central tabulating computers to steal the election for George W. Bush.

The Bush administration’s “fix” of the 2000 election debacle (the Help America Vote Act) made crooked elections considerably easier, by foisting paperless electronic voting on states before the bugs had been worked out or meaningful safeguards could be installed.

The Wall Street Journal recently revealed that “Verified Voting, a group formed by a Stanford University professor to assess electronic voting, has collected 31,000 reports of election fraud and other problems.”

University of Pennsylvania researcher Dr. Steven Freeman, in his November 2004 paper “The Unexplained Exit Poll Discrepancy,” says the odds that the discrepancies between predicted [exit poll] results and actual vote counts in swing states Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania could have been due to chance or random error are 250 million to 1. “Systematic fraud or mistabulation is a premature conclusion,” writes Freeman, “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.” Unlike Europe, where citizens count the ballots, in the United States employees of secretive, Republican-leaning company ES&S managed every aspect of the 2004 election. That included everything from registering voters, printing ballots and programming voting machines to tabulating votes (sometimes with armed guards keeping the media and members of the public who wished to witness the count at bay) and reporting the results, for 60 million voters in 47 states, according to Christopher Bollyn, writing in American Free Press. Most other votes were counted by three other firms that are snugly in bed with the GOP.

This election is not America’s first venture into electronic voting. In Georgia, in November 2002, Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes led in polls by 11 percent and Democratic Sen. Max Cleland was in front by 5 percent just before the election—the first ever conducted entirely on touch-screen electronic machines, and counted entirely by company employees, rather than public officials—but mysterious election-day swings of 16 percent and 12 percent defeated both popular incumbents. In Minnesota, Democrat Walter Mondale (replacing beloved Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash), lost in an amazing last-moment 11 percent vote swing recorded on electronic machines. Then, in 2003, what’s known as “black box voting” helped Arnold Schwarzenegger—who had deeply offended female, Latino and Jewish voters—defeat a popular Latino Democrat who substantially led in polls a week before the election.

Realizing that the 2004 election results are suspect, many prominent people and groups have begun to demand action. Recently, six important Congressmen, including three on the House Judiciary Committee, asked the U.S. Comptroller General to investigate the efficacy of new electronic voting devices.

Black Box Voting—the nonprofit group that spearheaded much of the pre-election testing (and subsequent criticism) of electronic machines—is filing the largest Freedom of Information Act inquiry in U.S. history. The organization’s Bev Harris claims, “Fraud took place in the 2004 election through electronic voting machines.” On Nov. 30, Black Box Voting filed suit against Palm Beach County in Florida for failing to provide public records.

Florida Democratic congressional candidate Jeff Fisher charged that he has and will show the FBI evidence that Florida results were hacked; he also claims to have knowledge of who hacked it. Fisher also believes that most Democratic candidates nationwide were harmed by GOP hacking and other dirty tactics—particularly in swing states.

The Green and Libertarian Parties, as well as Ralph Nader, are demanding an Ohio recount, charging voting fraud, suppression and disenfranchisement. Recounts are also being sought in New Hampshire, Nevada and Washington.

Votes collected by electronic machines (and by optical scan equipment that reads traditional paper ballots) are sent via modem to a central tabulating computer, which counts the votes on Windows software. Therefore, anyone who knows how to operate an Excel spreadsheet and who is given access to the central tabulation machine can, in theory, change election totals.

A quartet of companies control the U.S. vote count. Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia and SAIC are all hard-wired into the Bush campaign and power structure. Diebold chief Walden O’Dell is a top Bush fund-raiser.

All early Tuesday indicators predicted a Kerry landslide. Zogby International (which predicted the 2000 outcome more accurately than any national pollster) did exit polling which predicted a 100-electoral vote triumph for Kerry. Zogby saw Kerry winning crucial Ohio by 4 percent.

Princeton professor Sam Wang, whose analysis had shown the election to be close in the week before the election, began coming up with dramatic numbers for Kerry in the day before and day of the election. At noon EST on Monday, Nov. 1, he predicted a Kerry win by a 108-vote margin.

In the Iowa Electronic Markets, where “investors” wager real moolah on election outcome “contracts,” Bush led consistently for months before the election—often by as much as 60 percent to 39 percent. But at 7 p.m. CST on Nov. 2, 76.6 percent of the last hour’s traders had gone to Kerry, with only 20.1 percent plunking their bucks down on Bush.

As the first election returns came in, broadcasters were shocked to see that seemingly safe Bush states like Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina were being judged “too close to call.” At 7:28 EST, networks broadcast that Ohio and Florida favored Kerry by 51 percent to 49 percent.

In his research paper, Steven Freeman reports that exit polls showed Kerry had been elected. He was leading in nearly every battleground state, in many cases by sizable margins. But later, in 10 of 11 battleground states, the tallied margins differed from the predicted margins—and in every case the shift favored Bush.

In 10 states where there were verifiable paper trails—or no electronic machines—the final results hardly differed from the initial exit polls. In non-paper-trail states, however, there were significant differences. Florida saw a shift from Kerry up by 1 percent in the exit polls to Bush up by 5 percent at close of voting. In Ohio, Kerry went from up 3 percent to down 3 percent.

In close Senate races, changes between the exit poll results and the final tallies cost Democrats anticipated seats in Kentucky (a 13 percent swing to the GOP), Alaska, North Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma, South Dakota and possibly Pennsylvania—as well as enough House seats to retake control of the chamber.

Center for Research on Globalization’s Michael Keefer states, “The National Election Pool’s own data—as transmitted by CNN on the evening of November 2 and the morning of November 3—suggest strongly that the results of the exit polls were themselves fiddled late on November 2 in order to make their numbers conform with the tabulated vote tallies.”

Keefer says the total number of respondents at 9 p.m. was well over 13,000 and at 1:36 a.m. it had risen less than 3 percent—to 13,531 total respondents. Given the small increase in respondents, this 5 percent swing to Bush is mathematically impossible. In Florida, at 8:40 p.m., exit polls showed a near dead heat but the final exit poll update at 1:01 a.m. gave Bush a 4 percent lead. This swing was mathematically impossible, Keefer says, because there were only 16 more respondents in the final tally than in the earlier one.

Kathy Dopp’s eye-opening examination of Florida’s county-by-county record of votes cast and registration by party affiliation ( Election.htm) suggests systematic and widespread election anomalies in 47 of the state’s 67 counties. The apparent discrepancies occurred in counties where optically screened paper ballots were fed into a central tabulator PC, which is highly vulnerable to hacking. In these optical-scan counties, had GOP registrants voted Republican, Democratic registrants gone for Kerry and everyone registered showed up to vote, Bush would have received 1,337,242 votes. Instead, his reported vote total there was 1,950,213! That discrepancy (612,971) is nearly double Bush’s winning margin in the state (380,952).

Colin Shea, writing on Freezer, double-checked Dopp’s figures and confirmed that optical-scan counties gave Bush 16 percent more votes than he might have expected. “This 16 percent would not be strange if it were spread across counties more or less evenly,” Shea explains, but it is not. In 11 different counties, “actual” Bush tallies were 50 to 100 percent higher than expected. In one county, where 88 percent of voters are registered Democrats, Bush got nearly two-thirds of the vote—three times more than predicted by statistical models.

There were thousands of complaints about voting in Florida. Broward County electronic voting machines counted up to 32,500 and then started counting backward. This glitch, which existed in the 2002 election but was never fixed, overturned the exit-poll-predicted results of a gambling referendum. In several Florida counties, early-morning voters reported ballot boxes that already had an unusually large quantity of ballots in them. In Florida and five other states, according to Canada’s Globe and Mail, “the wrong candidate appeared on their touch-screen machine’s checkout screen” after the person had voted.

Republicans have argued that the Florida counties with majority Democratic registration that voted overwhelmingly for Bush were all conservative “Dixiecrat” bastions in northern Florida, and that all the reported totals were accurate. But MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann demonstrated that many of these crossover states voted Republican for the first time. He poked another hole in the Dixiecrat theory when he noted that in Democratic counties where Bush scored big, people also supported highly Democratic measures—such as raising the state minimum wage $1 above the federal level.

Moreover, 18 switchover counties were not in the Panhandle or near the Georgia border, but were scattered throughout the state. For instance, Hardee County (between Bradenton and Sebring) registered 63.8 percent Democratic but officially gave Bush 135 percent more votes than Kerry.

Voters Unite! detailed 303 specific election problems, including 84 complaints of machine malfunctions in 22 states (including one reported instance of programming error in Flathead County’s optical scan tabulation system), 24 cases of registration fraud in 14 states, 20 abusive voter challenge situations in 10 states, U.S. voters in 18 states and Israel experiencing absentee ballot difficulties, 10 states with provisional ballot woes, 22 cases of malfeasance in 13 states, 10 charges of voter intimidation in seven states, seven states where votes were suppressed, seven states witnessing outbreaks of animosity at the polls, six states suffering from ballot printing errors and seven instances in four states where votes were changed on-screen. In addition, the Voters Unite! website cites four states with early voting troubles, three states undergoing ballot programming errors, three states demonstrating ballot secrecy violations, bogus ballot fraud in New Mexico and double-voting for Bush in Texas.

Kerry’s victory was predicted by previously extremely accurate Harris and Zogby exit polls, by the formerly infallible 50 percent rule (an incumbent with less than 50 percent in the exit polls always loses; Bush had 47 percent—requiring him to capture an improbable 80 percent of the undecideds to win) and by the Incumbent Rule (undecideds break for the challenger, as exit polls showed they did by a large margin this time).

Nor is it credible that the surge in new young voters (who were witnessed standing in lines for hours on campuses nationwide) miraculously didn’t appear in the final totals; that Kerry did worse than Gore against an opponent who lost support; and that exit polls were highly accurate wherever there was a paper trail and grossly underestimated Bush’s appeal wherever there was no such guarantee of accurate recounts. Statisticians point out that based on exit polling data, Bush beat 99 to 1 mathematical odds in winning the election.

Election results are not final until electors vote on Dec. 12.

A version of this article was originally published in the Nov. 18 issue of Orlando Weekly.

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