Monday, January 14, 2008

New Hampshire: Not Over Yet?

I haven't seen much discussion of this in the British press (or indeed in the mainstream US press), but it's an interesting story.

In the aftermath of New Hampshire, the press and the pollsters were falling over themselves to announce that the people of the state had managed to flummox them. It was women! It was veiled racism! It was the large proportion of swing voters who only made their minds up in the booth! (That one, by the way, seems especially dubious since the exit polls showed the same supposed lead for Obama.) It was Hillary's crying!

A few people, however, had a different thought. Exit polls showing a vote one way, the count going the other. Rings a bell. Might it be worth investigating further? After all, 81% of New Hampshire's ballots were counted using Diebold's dodgy optical scan counting machines, not by hand. Of course, nobody has any evidence of any wrongdoing, but still, looks interesting, no?

Well certainly Dennis Kucinich (everyone's favourite Genuine Lefty Democrat) thought so, and he has requested a recount, together with an unheard of Republican candidate, Albert Howard. Many sources in the MSM are busy snorting derision at Kucinich; the Telegraph's coverage of this issue has stretched as far as this item in their campaign diary:

Eternal optimist

The anti-war Democrat Dennis Kucinich's less than emphatic 1.4 per cent return in the New Hampshire primary did not stop him demanding a recount, citing "serious and credible reports, allegations, and rumours" about voting irregularities. However, Kucinich needs a miracle, not a recount.

As Kucinich has made clear, he doesn't expect to change his position much from this - after all, the exit polls predicted more or less perfectly the results for all the candidates apart from Clinton and Obama. His press release said:
Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich ... has sent a letter to the New Hampshire Secretary of State asking for a recount of Tuesday’s election because of “unexplained disparities between hand-counted ballots and machine-counted ballots.”

“I am not making this request in the expectation that a recount will significantly affect the number of votes that were cast on my behalf,” Kucinich stressed ... but, “Serious and credible reports, allegations, and rumors have surfaced in the past few days…It is imperative that these questions be addressed in the interest of public confidence in the integrity of the election process and the election machinery – not just in New Hampshire, but in every other state that conducts a primary election.”


He added, “Ever since the 2000 election – and even before – the American people have been losing faith in the belief that their votes were actually counted. This recount isn’t about who won 39% of 36% or even 1%. It’s about establishing whether 100% of the voters had 100% of their votes counted exactly the way they cast them.”
I think he's absolutely right. Whether the machines are actually at fault or not, a lot of the US establishment seems pretty keen to have them rolled out ever more extensively, and it's not at all clear why. Is there anything seriously at fault with paper ballots counted by hand?

Anyway, his request has now been granted, (since at least there is a paper trail in this case - touchscreen voting machines, being introduced elsewhere, would have left no meaningful backup option) and the count will be going ahead, albeit after a frustrating delay; according to Huffington Post:
The recounts will begin on January 16, at a time and location to be announced after the state has completed an estimate of the cost and received payment based on that estimate.
The Huffington Post article is a good one, actually, although they take a rather cooler line on the whole thing, pointing out that the kind of discrepancy between hand-counted and machine-counted areas seen in the 2008 vote has also been seen in the previous primaries to have used machine counting. And that may well be the case, and it may simply reflect the demographics of the areas. But the point is that machines which have been shown to be very open to tampering are always going to leave a trail of questions, and hence erode trust in results that could well be perfectly valid. They need to go.

Paper ballots which people write their vote on are the most straightforward way of doing it, they have happened for hundreds of years, and if anyone feels there might be grounds for a recount, then one can be conducte easily. I know they're not perfect, but at least the process is transparent. At the end of the day, what's wrong with this is not any specific allegation of wrongdoing - none has been made. What's wrong is that elections are being left in the hands of a company whose CEO, in August 2003, announced that he had been a top fund-raiser for President George W. Bush and had sent a get-out-the-funds letter to Ohio Republicans saying he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."

As Bill Maher (a lesser-known-in-the-UK talkshow host) points out...

... "only [Diebold] know for certain what went on in that primary".

ps. Note also, in that clip, Tony Snow's immediate attempt to cover for Diebold and move the conversation onto something entirely different, voter fraud - an obvious Republican cause, since it will be mostly poor voters likely not to have voter ID organised on the day.

More on concerns about voting machines from Dan Rather's rather good programme, available in its entirety here.


Edis said...

Just to note that everyone in New Hampshire votes on a paper ballot. No touch-screen voting machines are used. Some townships count the paper ballots using optical readers. A hand recount is therefore possible as there is a paper trail.

This will indeded be an useful calibration of optical readers against handcounts.

Andy said...

Correct - and thank goodness there is a paper trail in this case. I have updated the post to make this point a bit clearer.

Tristan said...

This is interesting, and if there is a discrepancy then it will leave a lot of questions to be asked...

(of course, if you're conspiracy minded then of course they'd manipulate the hand count too...)