Debunking the debunker
By Ernest Partridge
Journal Guest Writer
Jun 9, 2006, 00:36
Complication of the election integrity issue works to the
advantage of the status quo; which is to say, the increasing use of
paperless, unauditable direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. More
complications abound as critics of the status quo attempt to prove that past,
and presumably future, elections were and will be fraudulent.
In fact, the controversy can be reduced to two simple
defenders of the status quo prove that the 2004 (and also the 2000 and
2002) elections were fair and accurate?
defenders of the status quo refute the critics?
The answer to the first question is simple and
straightforward: they cannot, because the DREs (and also the central compiling
computers) were designed to exclude proof. The software is secret, and thus
closed to inspection and validation, and there is no independent record of the votes
against which the totals can be verified. (Running the same computations again
is not a �recount.�) Moreover, computer experts have found, and demonstrated,
numerous �holes� in the machines through which voting totals can be finagled,
and reports of still more flaws continue to come in.
The response of the private election industry and the
Republicans to demands of proof are (1) �trust us,� (2) ad hominem attacks
on the critics. (�Sore losers,� �conspiracy theorists,� �get over it!�). And
finally (with the collaboration of the mainstream media) (3) no response. There
are no substantive proofs of validity because, once again, the machines are
designed to exclude them.
Regarding the second question, every now and then an attempt
is made to refute the critics. The most recent of note was published last
Friday in Salon.com, and was written by Farhad Manjoo, who
has made something of a career out of debunking the critics. Whenever an important
critique of the electoral status quo is published, by John Conyers� committee,
by Mark Crispin Miller, or most recently by Robert
F. Kennedy, Jr., we can generally count on a rebuttal by Manjoo. Last week,
he did not disappoint us.
Manjoo�s latest was a pathetically weak piece of work which,
due to its flaws, only serves to strengthen the case of its target, the RFK
article. Or so I shall argue in the remainder of this essay.
At the outset, I should note that with all due respect to
Robert Kennedy, Jr., I must hope that he is wrong and the Manjoo is right. If
so, then the Democrats have an excellent chance of regaining control of at
least one house of Congress in the November election, and with it oversight of
the Bush administration. But if Kennedy is right about the ability of the
Republicans to �fix� elections, then it may be impossible to budge the GOP from
power, whatever might be the will of the voters. False optimism is the enemy of
To begin, let�s address a few minor points, which can be
dispatched quite briefly.
Is Kennedy just
rehashing old complaints?
Manjoo writes: �If you've spent time on Democratic
Underground or have read Mark Crispin Miller's 'Fooled Again,' you're already
familiar with everything [sic] Kennedy has to say.� [My emphasis, EP] Because
Miller is about to publish a rebuttal of this claim, I would prefer to let him
reply in his own behalf. However, having read the books by Conyers, Fitrakis
and Wasserman, and Mark Crispin Miller, I am willing to stipulate that most of
what Kennedy presents is �old stuff,� however, this time with the added
advantage of scrupulous documentation.
But so what? Those �old stories� are no less substantial for
being �old.� On the contrary, after a year and a half of examination and
criticism, they still stand up. For this reason, the �old� possesses an
advantage over the �new.�
Were the Ohio (and
other) anomalies nothing more than expected �screw-ups� and coincidences found
in all elections?
If so, then these anomalies would be expected to work,
approximately evenly, to the advantage and disadvantage of both sides. They did
not. Almost all of the alleged �screw-ups� and �coincidences� worked to the
advantage of Bush. Typical of defenders of the Ohio outcome, Manjoo also points
out that individual anomalies were not sufficient to alter the outcome of the
Ohio election. But he fails to address the obvious rejoinder: the cumulative
effect of several anomalies (by no means all of them) were quite enough.
Manjoo has nothing whatever to say about paperless direct
electronic recording (DRE) machines. He presumably says nothing because he can
say nothing that can advance his case for the validity of the 2004 election. So
there is not a word in his article about secret source codes, lack of
independent paper record, impossibility of auditing, or the GOP partisanship of
the manufacturers and code-writers. Even if DREs in Ohio in 2004 (and
elsewhere, and in 2002 and 2000) were 100 percent honest and accurate, there is
no reason whatever to know this and an abundance of evidence (statistical,
circumstantial and anecdotal) indicating that they were "fixed." As I
noted at the outset, "Trust us," and ad hominem attacks on the
critics are not evidence. And the silence of the media (not to mention the
Democrats) about this compelling issue is deafening.
Now to some more substantial issues:
Is Kennedy guilty of telling half-truths and omitting
embarrassing data? Is Manjoo? Manjoo complains that Kennedy commits �numerous
errors of interpretation and . . . deliberate omission of key bits of data.�
But "the whole story" cannot be told in the allowed space. Even so,
with his 206 endnotes, RFK makes a valiant attempt. More telling are Manjoo�s
omissions. With Manjoo�s complaint of �deliberate omissions� in mind, I reread
Kennedy�s essay. There I found at least 20 key elements of Kennedy�s case for
fraud that were totally ignored by Manjoo. Among them:
of the 6 million American voters abroad either did not receive their
ballots, or received them too late. (Polls of these voters indicated that
they were overwhelmingly pro-Kerry).
- In New
Mexico, decided by 5,988 votes, malfunctioning machines failed to register
the presidential vote on 20,000 ballots. (Kennedy fails to mention that
these were in predominantly Democratic districts).
precinct in an evangelical church in Miami County recorded an impossibly
high turnout of ninety-eight percent, while a polling place in inner-city
Cleveland recorded an equally impossible turnout of only seven
Warren County, media monitoring of the official vote count was prevented
by a totally bogus �terrorist warning.�
- In one
precinct, exit polls indicated that �Kerry should have received
sixty-seven percent of the vote . . . Yet the certified tally gave him
only thirty-eight percent.� The statistical odds? Almost one in 3 billion.
- �A New
York Times analysis before the election found that new registrations in
traditional Democratic strongholds were up 250 percent, compared to only
twenty-five percent in Republican-leaning counties.�
heavily democratic Youngstown . . . nearly 100 voters reported entering
�Kerry� on the touch screen and watching �Bush� light up . . . Similar �vote
hopping� from Kerry to Bush was reported by voters and election officials
in other states.�
electric machine at a fundamentalist church in the town of Gahanna
recorded a total of 4,258 votes for Bush and 260 votes for Kerry. In that
precinct, however, there were only 800 registered voters.�
And 12 more. None of them mentioned by Manjoo. And once
again, in almost all cases of voting �anomalies� throughout the country, the
�errors� favored Bush.
If one were to concede most of Majoo�s criticisms (the exit
poll issue excepted) which, of course, I do not, even so the remaining
unanswered elements of Kennedy�s essay would add up to a compelling case for
misallocation of voting machines: Manjoo gives away his argument.
Manjoo appears unaware of the fact that through his attempt
to explain away the misallocation of voting machines, he has supplied strong
evidence of significant voting fraud.
To begin, here are some quotations by Manjoo which set up
the trap into which he falls. (The emphases are mine. EP):
Kennedy says that "more than 174,000 voters" in
Ohio did not cast a ballot due to long lines at the polls. He considers the GOP
directly responsible for this failure. "The long lines were not only
foreseeable -- they were actually created by GOP efforts," he says . . .
Kennedy's argument that Republicans deliberately
engineered the long lines, [is] on pretty shaky ground. To be sure, there is
ample evidence that election officials throughout the state failed to
respond to the surge in voter registration seen in the 2004 race. But it is
far more accurate to see their actions as part of a larger picture of
incompetence in the midst of massive changes in election procedures --
especially changes in voting technology -- than as part of a GOP plot . . .
Franklin County's allocation of voting machines can be
seen as biased if you look at the number of black voters who were registered by
Election Day, but decisions about how to allocate voting machines are made
months before then. That's why Mebane also notes that "if the allocation
of voting machines is compared to information about the size of the active
electorate that was available to Franklin County election officials at the end
of April 2004, then the allocation of machines is not biased against voters who
were active at that time in precincts having high proportions of African
The difference reflects the reality that in the last
few months of election season, registration surged in Ohio. That Franklin
County's voting-machine allocation was considered unbiased in the spring and
biased in the fall arises from the fact that the county failed to respond to
these electoral changes.
Note now, as Manjoo concedes, that there were �shortages� of
voting machines in Democratic precincts and �longages� of machines in
Republican districts. And why? Because in April the election officials did not
anticipate the �registration surges.� But Manjoo fails to take note of the
obvious implication that the misallocation shows that the �surges� were primarily
among the Democrats. Kennedy is explicit: �A New York Times analysis before the
election found that new registrations in traditional Democratic strongholds
were up 250 percent, compared to only twenty-five percent in Republican-leaning
So now the trap is sprung: Where, Mr. Manjoo, did the
Democratic vote �surge� resulting from the Democratic registration �surge� go?
Is it just possible that those votes were either �lost� or, through some hidden
hocus-pocus within the Diebold �black boxes,� switched from Kerry to Bush?
Clearly, they are not apparent in the final vote totals.
Robert Kennedy has a ready answer. I am curious as to how
Manjoo and like-minded apologists would respond.
Of course, none of this �misallocation theory� accounts for
the following, as described by Kennedy (and ignored by Manjoo):
At liberal Kenyon College, where students had registered
in record numbers, local election officials provided only two voting machines
to handle the anticipated surge of up to 1,300 voters. Meanwhile,
fundamentalist students at nearby Mount Vernon Nazarene University had one
machine for 100 voters and faced no lines at all.
Surely the election officials knew in April that Kenyon
College was strongly liberal, and Nazerene College was conservative. Why the
Explanation please, Mr. Manjoo.
of statistical evidence is absurd.
Because a paraphrase of Manjoo�s treatment of statistical
proof may appear too outlandish to be believable, a direct quotation is in order.
As for Freeman's 660,000 to 1 statistic [of the
improbability of random error], it is irrelevant . . . The statistic
measures the probability that the errors in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida
occurred due to chance or random error, and according to Freeman, that
probability is very low. But nobody argues the errors happened by chance.
Everyone in the exit poll debate agrees that there was a systematic cause for
the errors in the poll. Freeman, Kennedy, et al., claim that the systematic
cause was fraud, while Mitofsky and many in the polling community claim the
cause was a problem with the poll. So Freeman's argument that it would take
preposterous odds to produce a random sampling error is a straw-man
assertion. [My emphases, EP]
Of course �nobody argues the errors happened by
chance!� Freeman�s whole point is that chance error is in effect impossible.
But that doesn�t make the statistic �irrelevant� or the argument �a straw man.�
On the contrary, the statistic, and the entailed �impossibility,� is central to
Is Manjoo really so foolish as to believe this nonsense? I
doubt it, for he is obviously a bright fellow. But he apparently hopes that his
readers are fools. Well, not all of us are.
So we are left with this: Yes, random error is impossible,
therefore, yes, there was �systematic cause� for errors. Lacking plausible
explanation of error in exit poll design and execution, the compelling
conclusion is fraud.
But is there a plausible explanation in design and execution
of the exit polls? Manjoo says yes, and so to this consideration we now turn.
attempt to explain away the exit polls.
Logicians and Philosophers of Science describe �ad hoc
hypotheses� as assertions that explain (better, �explain-away�) phenomena,
although these assertions are without any independent evidential warrant.
Scholarly Choctaw aside, the concept can be clearly illustrated by examples.
Q: �Why haven�t any of Saddam�s weapons of mass destruction
been found?� Ans.: �They were all shipped out and hidden in Syria.� (That�s the
ad hoc hypothesis). Q: �Any evidence of this?� Ans: �Unfortunately, no.�
(�But just you wait!�).
Fundie preachers are notoriously attracted to ad hoc
explanations; for example, the Pat Robertson/Jerry Falwell explanation of the
9/11 attacks as God�s punishment of America for tolerating homosexuality,
abortion and the ACLU.
A final example: When, as a child, I asked how, if God
created the world in 4004 BC, there are dinosaur bones in the ground. I was
told that "it is possible that Satan put them there to lead us
astray." Any independent evidence of this? Of course not! (This is where
�faith� comes to the rescue).
�Ad hoc-ery� is commonly revealed by such phrases as
�it is possible that . . ." and �could have . . ." and �there is reason
to believe . . ."
Consider now the theory that the exit poll �error�
predicting the Kerry victory was the result of �the over-sampled Kerry voters.�
"According to [Warren Mitofsky, whose polling group
administered the exit polls] interviewers assigned to talk to voters as they
left the polls appear to be slightly more inclined to seek out Kerry voters
than Bush voters. Kerry voters were thus overrepresented in the poll by a small
Kennedy is unimpressed with Mitofsky's explanation:
"Now, thanks to careful examination of Mitofsky's
own data by Freeman and a team of eight researchers, we can say conclusively
that the theory is dead wrong. In fact it was Democrats, not Republicans, who
were more disinclined to answer pollsters' questions on Election Day. In Bush
strongholds, Freeman and the other researchers found that fifty-six percent of
voters completed the exit survey -- compared to only fifty-three percent in
Kerry strongholds. 'The data presented to support the claim not only fails to
substantiate it,' observes Freeman, 'but actually contradicts it.'"
Now things begin to get dicey for the Manjoo/Mitofsky
faction. (My emphases):
The numbers Kennedy cites fit the theory that Kerry
voters were more likely to respond to pollsters than Bush voters. For instance,
in the Bush strongholds -- where the average completion rate was 56 percent -- it's
possible that only 53 percent of those who voted for Bush were willing to
be polled, while people who voted for Kerry participated at a higher 59 percent
rate. Meanwhile, in the Kerry strongholds, where Mitofsky found a 53 percent
average completion rate, it's possible that Bush voters participated 50
percent of the time, while Kerry voters were willing to be interviewed 56
percent of the time. In this scenario, the averages work out to the same ones
Kennedy cited: a 56 percent average response rate in Bush strongholds, and a 53
percent average response rate in Kerry strongholds. But in both Bush
strongholds and Kerry strongholds, Kerry voters would have been
responding at a higher rate, skewing the poll toward Kerry.
Yes, �it is possible that . . ." Independent evidence? None!
What's more, these numbers are not set in stone. That's
because, as Mitofsky has pointed out, it's not possible to measure the actual
completion rate by Kerry voters and by Bush voters. (When someone refuses to
talk to a pollster, it's not possible to say whether he was a Bush voter or
Kerry voter.) Mitofsky says that a hypothetical completion rate of 50
percent for Bush voters and 56 percent for Kerry voters would have led
to the error we saw in the poll.
Independent evidence? None!
Next, from these unsupported ad hoc hypotheticals,
Manjoo draws a substantive conclusion:
�In other words, Kerry voters were very slightly more
likely to talk to pollsters than were Bush voters.�
Obviously a non sequitor.
Ultimately, nothing in Kennedy's article, and nothing
that the research he cites, refutes Mitofsky's theory that there was a true
difference in the willingness of Kerry voters to participate in the poll
compared to that of Bush voters.
But why should Kennedy be required to �refute Mitofsky�s
theory,� when Mitofsky offers nothing to substantiate his �theory?� Manjoo
concludes his �explanation� of the exit poll �error� with still more empty,
Mitofsky noted a broad array of methodological errors that
could have contributed to this difference in participation rate by Kerry
and Bush voters. Such a difference would not have been a surprise; Democrats
have historically been overrepresented in exit polls. There is no reason to
think that the error in 2004 was anything substantively different.
�It�s possible that . . ." �A hypothetical completion
rate . . ." �Would have led . . ." �Could have contributed. . . ."
�There is no reason to think. . . ." These are the plaintive cries of
despair of the evidence starved. They are howling indicators of shameless ad
So it comes to this circular result:
the exit polling error?
of the oversampling of the Kerry voters.
why should we believe that the Kerry voters were oversampled?
it explains the exit poll error.
How does one escape the circular argument? By supplying
independent evidence of "the over-sampled Kerry voter." And as we
have seen, there is none.
For the theologically inclined, here is another ad hoc
explanation of the exit polling error. As the faithful assure us, The Lord God
anointed George Bush to be our president. This we know from George Bush
himself. In fact, Bush won Ohio handily. However, The Prince of Darkness,
determined as ever to undo the Lord�s work, distorted the exit poll to cast
doubt on the legitimacy of God�s Chosen President. So why did Mitofsky�s polls
fail? "The Devil made him do it."
I submit that this "explanation" has about as much
independent support as "the over-sampled Kerry voters" theory, i..e.,
So if these ad hoc "explanations" of the polling
error fail, and if no other explanations are brought forward and "random
error" is judged impossible, what other explanation are we left with?
What else? The election was fraudulent.
Do articles like Kennedy�s, and rebuttals like Manjoo�s,
illegitimately �frame� the controversy in favor of the status quo and against
Have the critics been �suckered� into �playing the game�
according to their opponents ground rules? Unfortunately, it appears that they
have. Why must it be the task of the critics, private citizens all, to
"prove" that the past three elections were fraudulent? Why have these
critics conceded this burden of proof? Do not the citizens have a right
to secure and accurate elections? Shouldn't the burden of proof be on the
government to provide verifiable procedures? Should it not suffice that the
critics demonstrate that the procedures fall short? Even if Farhad Manjoo and
others succeed in showing that Robert Kennedy and other critics fail to make a
convincing case for fraud (and I submit that Manjoo has done no such thing),
shouldn't it be enough that the critics have raised reasonable and unanswerable
doubts, and that the election officials and the defenders of the status quo
cannot supply the citizens convincing evidence and proof that the elections are
honest and accurate? This much at least, the defenders have accomplished.
Nothing else should be required. So why does the controversy continue?
Robert Kennedy Jr.�s argument that the 2004 election was
stolen emerges essentially undiminished, and arguably strengthened by the
weakness of Manjoo�s �rebuttal.� That�s the logic of it.
But the practical effects are another matter. Will this
controversy finally break into open public debate? And will it do so in time
for the public will to overcome the formidable barrier of �black box� voting
machines with their hidden secret codes and unlocked �back doors� open to real
time manipulation and fraud?
Emerging from the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin
Franklin was asked: �What do we have, Dr. Franklin?� He replied, �A republic if
you can keep it.�
Today it is uncertain whether we still have a republic, much
less whether we can keep it.
Today, as in 1787, the answer to that question is up to We
the People of the United States
Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of
Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the
University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the
website, The Online Gadfly and co-edits
the progressive website, "The
Crisis Papers." His book in progress, "Conscience of a
Progressive," can be seen at The Online Gadfly. Send
comments to: email@example.com
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