I’ve already commented on Stefan Sharkansky — the
Jeff Gannon Jim Guckert of the Washington press corps — rudely heckling Ron Sims at a press conference yesterday. The Snark snidely blogged about the “hails of derisive laughter” at Sims claim that the November election “had an accuracy rate that any bank would envy.” What Snark doesn’t tell his readers is that the laughter came solely (and deliberately) from him and one fellow malcontent.
Perhaps one of the reasons the assembled media didn’t laugh at the comparison, is that it’s not all that laughable. As TorridJoe and Daniel Kirkdorffer point out on their respective blogs (Also Also and On the Road to 2008), the banking system is not as error free as one might expect, and Washington state elections not quite so error prone as the righties make it out to be.
Both Joe and Daniel site an article by Bank Technology News, that says errors account for about 0.2 percent of online transactions.
“There is always going to be an error rate that they have to live with,” notes Beth Robertson, senior analyst at TowerGroup. But she says rates are remarkably low and roughly half of what they were in 2001. Nonetheless, a 0.2 percent rate is still about 3.4 million payment mistakes that occur either because of customer error or some other glitch in the system, including problems stemming from billers who may switch bank accounts and fail to notify banks so they can change the routing of customer payments. Banks also may fail to cancel a recurring payment either because the request wasn’t processed in time or the customer didn’t make the change correctly on the front end.
Hmmm… 0.2 percent? Doesn’t that come to a 99.8 percent accuracy rate, exactly the rate Snark claims for King County elections?
Daniel takes his analysis further, pointing out the similarities between the types of banking errors described, and those alleged during our recent election.
So the banking systems seem to be plagued the same type of errors we’ve seen in the elections:
-customer error , much like voters who couldn’t fill out their ballots correctly, or didn’t sign them.
-glitches , not unlike voting machines that counted wrong, or lost votes, or couldn’t read valid votes marked in pencil.
-switched bank accounts , kind of like change of addresses.
-failure to cancel a recurring payment , similar to deaths that went unrecorded, and felons who were kept on the voter lists.
That’s pretty uncanny!
The article sums it up by saying, “the equation will likely never be perfect.” .
Of course, online banking isn’t the only area where errors occur in our financial system. Identity theft has become the largest category of fraud, and the fuel behind our nation’s multi-billion dollar credit card fraud racket. The banks are reluctant to release actual fraud rates, but some foreign credit cards are estimated to have rates as high as 0.47 percent! And according to Jupiter Media Metrix, worldwide credit card fraud rates range between 25 cents and 28 cents out of every $100.00 US charged online.
If King County’s election truly was 99.8 percent accurate (as the mathematically infallible Snark argues) then Ron Sims and Dean Logan have the right to be proud. Not only was it more accurate than the banking system, but it was also far more accurate than the 0.5 percent margin the Caltech/MIT Voter Technology Project recommends as the threshold for automatic recounts.
I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement. The King County Council will be holding an open session on election reform (Monday, 9:30 AM, Council Chambers), and I encourage everybody who cares about this issue to be there. Hopefully, those attending will contribute more to the discussion than just jeers, heckles, and derisive laughter.