Infernal statistics of the spotless mind

At the risk of drawing a baseball bat to the head from the mathematical guidos who run the numbers racket over at (un)Sound Politics, I thought I’d comment again on their wholly unscientific enterprise of predicting the outcome of our ongoing hand recount.

In an effort to prepare his “fellow Republicans for some possible bad news”, Jim Miller presents the somewhat plausible (though totally unsupported) premise that random counting errors are not random at all, positing that “people tend to make mistakes that favor themselves.”

And so I wondered if the current results — an admittedly small sample representing only 20% of total ballots cast — might support Jim’s thesis. Early returns have tended to come from Republican strongholds where Rossi won handily, thus he currently leads the recount 56% to 41%. If Jim is correct, that some of the newly found votes are the result of nonrandom bias, then Rossi’s lead in these new votes should be somewhat greater than his lead in the overall totals.

Out of 338 aggregate new votes, Rossi has gained 190, while Gregoire has gained 144. Pull out your spreadsheets if you wish, but off the top of my head that comes to about 56% for Rossi, 42% for Gregoire… almost exactly the same percentage as the overall totals. Apparently, these new votes have been distributed randomly between the candidates.

Of course, Jim might attribute this lack of discrepancy to the fact that Republicans are honest and Democrats are not. (I suspect he probably will.)

But more interesting to me is what this says about the statistical contortions his fellow numerologist Stefan is using to reinforce the notion that Rossi has already won… whatever the final vote count. Stefan knows how to write, so I can only assume that his long-winded recitations of obscure Excel functions are intended to confuse the reader, while fulfilling an apparently urgent need to constantly reassure himself of how smart he is.

So rather than torturing you with pages of calculations, permit me to propose a mathematical shortcut, based on the premise that the majority of these newly counted votes are not the result of human error during the recount, but rather, random tabulation error during the machine count. Since the overall vote count is roughly a 50-50 split, can’t we assume that statewide, the newly found votes should also split roughly 50-50?

Add in the 561 new votes in King County, and one would think that Gregoire stands a fair chance of winning the election.

Of course… all of this is complete bullshit, because there are so many factors that could screw up any projection in such a close race. Did King County already vet much of its discernible “under vote” during its more thorough recount? Are there more surprises to be uncovered in King or elsewhere? Will the King cavass board re-examine rejected ballots due to court mandate or public and party pressure? Will the rest of the new votes break as predictably as the first 20% have?

I’ve got no idea. And you know what? Neither does Stefan or Jim.


  1. 1

    Jim King spews:

    Goldy- the worst part of this election is that I have a very good (and good-lookin’) Democrat friend with whom I have a wager on this race, involving one round per thousand (or part thereof) of victory margin- and instead of getting a buzz on, one of us will be buying a few drops…

  2. 2

    Goldy spews:

    Jim, maybe you can create a new drinking game. Read (un)Sound Politics, and every time Snark writes “t-distribution” you drink a shot.

  3. 3

    Jim King spews:

    Goldy- I think we dun drunk every body else under the table- I really thought that gal from Ohixas would keep up with us (Hi Susan)… :)

    To paraphrase Humpty Snarkdy- the numbers mean what I mean for them to mean…

  4. 4

    Bob from Boeing spews:

    Larry Phillips looks great on TV……….Ron Sims has not commented………R’s are talking big time street protests…….what a spectacle that would be, the ones in Olympia looked like a bunch off hippies, tell them to get a job……Logan will be quietly sacked in a few months…..grand juries and civil lawsuits are looming possibilities, my bet is on civil lawsuits……..unfounded rumor, Din Rossi and wife are consulting with leading psychic Sylvia Brown…….have been told folks on the other side want their votes counted too……I need coffee…….real life outre elections, a 55 year old friend who has been called back into the Army, what a horror……

  5. 7

    Goldy spews:

    Hey… they started it!

    (Just kidding.) (Though really… they did start it.)

    I’ve got some more analysis to post, but I don’t think I’ll have the time before noon.

  6. 8

    Jim King spews:

    bmvaughn- Hard to do honest analysis. We are now faced with unique, discrete events that no one can honestly trend across the state- 7 unopened provisionals…154 machine unreadable ballots…2 erasures read as votes by machines…561 signatures not even checked…

    No one can take those events and honestly trend them. No one can predict what else will happen in what county. Goldy has done the best in noting that if you take all the discrete events, they seem to balance out proportionally, but…?

    Look at Island County- Rossi county, seventy percent of new votes go to Gregoire… Or Adams county- over two to one for Rossi, but all five votes “lost” came from Rossi’s count… Or Walla Walla- not quite two to one for Rossi, but 13 to 2 for him on the additional votes… And so on and so on…

    With twenty percent of the count producing 334 additional votes, the roughly one-third of the state that is King County producing 561 votes is not out of line… And not enough to deliver for Gregoire.

  7. 9

    Jim King spews:

    Canvasser, canvasser, make me a Gov.
    Find me a gain, catch me a win.
    Canvasser, canvasser, look through your polls
    And find me the votes I need.

  8. 10

    jcricket spews:

    I think the one thing that statistics can tell us, is that if you look at a small enough portion of the ballots, there aren’t discernable trends. As Jim pointed out, looking at each county on its own points a completely random picture.

    But as Goldy pointed out, it’s likely that the overall recount won’t swing the votes too much in either direction. However, since we were only 42 votes out of 2.8 million apart to begin with, a small swing in one direction changes the outcome.

    Frankly, I’m actually excited by this recount. Democracy in action. Highlights the pros and cons of the American and WA voting system, the press, power of bloggers, power of the people to influence the direction of their state, etc. If we can all keep the hyperbole to a minimum, like Goldy, Jim and Josef here, (and less like Cynical, Stefan and Chuck) we just might learn something.

  9. 12

    Bob from Boeing spews:

    I think I missed something- what is it the class is teaching the class?

    Partisian politics is a messy game.

  10. 13


    David, you are correct. Of the 334 two-party votes that were added in the recount, we would have expected 193 to go to Rossi (based on his 57.8% share of the two-party votes in those counties in the first recount). That only 190 went to him is well within the margin that can be attributed to chance.

    See, when you make a sound argument based on real numbers, you will find that I might agree with you.

    As for your other statement “Stefan is using to reinforce the notion that Rossi has already won… whatever the final vote count.

    That is just plain silly. As I wrote yesterday before learning about King County’s newly discovered ballots “So the probability that Gregoire picks up enough new votes is less than 12%. As I’ve written many times before, this is not a sure win for anybody, but the odds favor Dino Rossi. And of course this can change as new information presents itself and if the rules of the recount are to change.”

    Now really, partisan spin is one thing, but turning my words around by 180° is just a waste of your readers’ time.

  11. 15

    Jim King spews:

    Bob- the class is teaching the class that laughter is the best medicine? That taking oneself TOO seriously creates a tight ass as one becomes anal retentive? That figures lie and liars figure?

    Geez, time to go visit the real world again…

  12. 16

    Goldy spews:

    Now really, partisan spin is one thing, but turning my words around by 180° is just a waste of your readers’ time.

    Stefan… if I did so (and I don’t think I did) such turnabout is certainly fair play. I was broadly referring to the full body of your statistical analysis, in which I believe you did argue that a victory by Gregoire in the hand recount could still leave us with greater confidence that Rossi actually received more votes.

    But as always, please accept my needling in the spirit in which it is intended. I enjoy our dialectic, hostile as it may sometimes appear.