The fledgling right-wing propaganda war continues in the Senate race between Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken. As of yesterday’s midnight deadline, Franken trails Coleman by 206 out of 2.9 million votes.
The latest error-prone Wingding propaganda piece comes from Dr. John R. Lott, Jr. writing an opinion piece for Fox News. Lott, a right-wing academic, begins his article by insinuating something sinister behind the changing vote tallies:
[On Wednesday morning,] Senator Norm Coleman led Al Franken by what seemed like a relatively comfortable 725 votes. By Wednesday night, that lead had shrunk to 477. By Thursday night, it was down to 336. By Friday, it was 239. Late Sunday night, the difference had gone down to just 221 — a total change over 4 days of 504 votes.
Amazingly, this all has occurred even though there hasn’t even yet been a recount.
It is hard to know if this is genuinely spin or whether Lott is simply unaware of elementary elections procedures. Changes in vote totals are almost guaranteed in the days leading up to initial certification. There are numerous reasons for this, including ongoing tallying of absentee and provisional ballots, correction of tabulating and reporting errors, and resolution of disputed ballots. In Minnesota, however, the changes are mostly corrections of tabulating and reporting errors because absentee ballots must be received by election day, and with election day registration possible, provisional ballots are not used. (In 2006, Minnesota had no provisional ballots cast. I am unclear whether provisional ballots play any role in Minnesota’s new voter challenge procedures.) Some ballots do remain uncounted at the time the polls close on election day:
Ramsey County found 55 absentee ballots which arrived on time to be counted on election day, but which were not. Those results have now been included in the new totals.
Counting these ballots will obviously affect subsequent reporting.
Contrary to Lott’s insinuations, the only thing unusual about these changes is that people are paying attention:
…county auditors are finding minor errors as they’re proofing their unofficial numbers before shipping them to St. Paul, said John Aiken, spokesman for Secretary Mark Ritchie.
“The counties are trying to be as accurate and transparent as possible. You’ll see fluctuations here and there,” Aiken said.
It happens all the time in every election, he said. The only difference is that for most elections, the margin is much wider and the election less prominent. Here, he said, “The eyes of the nation are on this Senate race.”
Lott goes on to “analyze” the errors, and he offers alarmist rhetoric that overlooks the specifics of known cases. For example, one case of an additional 100 votes for Franken simply reflected a typo:
In Pine County, an election official accidentally entered 24 votes for Franken on Tuesday night instead of the 124 he actually received. The mistake was caught on Thursday and the numbers changed, said Jim Gelbmann from the Secretary of State’s office.
In another case, the change reflected a failure to report any result at all:
In northeastern Minnesota, the town of Buhl’s ballots had been cast but not counted in statewide totals. It turns out election officials there counted the votes but never called them in. […]
Election official Mike Buchanan said that when Buhl election officials arrived a work at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, “we received a phone call from St. Louis County — they wanted our election numbers.”
They got them.
Coleman received 152 votes in Buhl and Franken got 343, for a difference of 191 in the Democratic candidate’s favor. Not enough to change the results, but enough to tighten the contest even more.
Sinister! Sinister, I tell you!
Lott’s specifics-free discussion of the precincts from which Franken’s votes came ends with this bit of factually challenged, pure Wingnut propaganda:
It was also true that precincts that gave Obama a larger percentage of the vote were statistically more likely to make a correction that helped Franken.
This is the kind of statement that somehow seems authoritative—I mean, using words like “statistically more likely” and all. But it is bullshit technobabble. Statisticians use the term “statistically more likely” to refer to a result that exceeds some benchmark by an amount that is (probabilistically) outside of the sampling error. When the entire population is surveyed (as, say, when all voters in an election are considered), there is no sampling error. A difference is just a difference (or every difference is statistically significant). So Lott either doesn’t understand statistics (doubtful) or he is trying to bullshit us.
Lott offers more sloppy propaganda:
The recent Washington State 2006 gubernatorial recount is probably most famous for the discovery of ballots in heavily Democratic areas that had somehow missed being counted the first and even second time around. Minnesota is already copying that, though thus far on a much smaller scale, with 32 absentee ballots being discovered in Democratic Hennepin County after all the votes had already been counted.
In fact, the 32 absentee ballots in Hennepin County (and the 55 absentee ballots found in Ramsey County) are part of the first count. Even so, it is possible additional ballots will be found in the Minnesota recount. What of it? The whole purpose of a recount to ensure that every ballot is counted and counted correctly. Ironically, it was Republican Dino Rossi’s campaign in the 200
64 Washington state race that ended up hunting down additional ballots—after the second recount.
Lott then goes on to downplay expectations that the recount will affect much about the election. He poo-poos an AP article about the magnitude of the undervote, and its possible significance. He incorrectly suggests that voters are warned about undervotes in Minnesota. This is simply incorrect—overvotes are flagged, not undervotes.
Optical scan machines do make mistakes. Minnesota estimates this error rate after each election by conducting audits in about 5% of precincts. The 2006 results gave a rate of 53 errors in 94,073 votes cast. Indeed, in Ramsey County yesterday, the machine audit found Franken gaining one vote out of 7,700 counted.
Lott uses his misunderstanding of the optical scanning machines to raise the same old tired talking points against “voter intent”:
There should be no role to divine voters’ intentions. If a voter wanted a vote recorded for a particular race, the machine tells him whether his vote in all the races was counted.
Finally, Lott offers a Wingnut taking point that has no place in this discussion:
With ACORN filing more than 43,000 registration forms this year, 75 percent of all new registrations in the state, Minnesota was facing vote fraud problems even before the election. Even a small percentage of those registrations resulting in fraudulent votes could tip this election.
Un-huh. I suppose it is possible that Lott has been in a vacuum and actually believes this crap. More likely, he knows better, but just throws this out as Wingnut bullshit designed to cast doubt on the election. Specifically, he is exploiting the widely publicized fact that some ACORN employees have made up registrations (i.e. they have defrauded ACORN, who pays them for registering new potential voters)—information that has come to light in some cases because ACORN has reported what they believe are fake registration forms. Unless Lott believes that dishonest workers subsequently go on to recruit people to go vote as Micky Mouse, there is no link between real people registered by ACORN and “vote fraud problems” at the polls.
So…that is the latest in wingnuttery over this race. Get ready for the howls of “election fraud” when the voter crediting numbers turn out to be less than the numbers of ballots cast.