Did e-voting fraud help Bush steal the election?

The Internets are abuzz with rumors that Bush won with the help of rigged electronic voting machines.

By Farhad Manjoo
November 5, 2004 1:06AM (UTC)
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Lefty Web sites are buzzing with a supposed "statistical analysis" that they say proves that Republicans stole the election by rigging paperless touch screen machines. According to the analysis performed by a Democratic Underground regular who goes by the handle SoCalDemocrat, states that use electronic machines were all showing strong Kerry support in exit polls, but when the results came in, the states went to Bush. The polls (which are based on interviews with voters as they leave the polls) indicate that voters in the state really voted for Kerry, the lefties say; the machines distorted or changed their votes. "Maybe Dubayah believes God will see him through this, but it's going to take more than blind faith to pull the wool over the data and the facts," SoCalDemocrat writes.

But as we see it, SoCalDemocrat's evidence is quite thin. For one thing, he appears to be wrong on the facts. While he's correct that exit polls showed a Kerry victory in many states that actually went to Bush, this didn't only happen in states that use paperless touch screen machines.


The most obvious example is Nevada, the only state in the nation to use what many computer scientists consider to be the safest touch-screen machines -- machines that print a paper ballot that is reviewed by the voter as each vote is cast, a so-called voter-verified paper trail. In Nevada, the last exit polls showed Kerry leading Bush by 49 to 48 percent, with 1 percent for Ralph Nader. The actual result was a win for Bush by 51 to 48 percent.

And even in states that did use paperless touch-screen machines, it's not clear that Bush made his gains in the areas of the states that used them, rather than regions that use other machines. For instance, in Florida, it's the state's large South Florida counties that use paperless touch screens. But Bush did worse in these regions in 2004 than in 2000. In the 2000 race in Miami-Dade, Bush got about 47 percent of the two-party share of the vote, while Al Gore received 53 percent; this year, Bush only got 46 percent of the two-party vote there, while Kerry got 54 percent. What this means is that in the move from punch-card machines (which, as everyone remembers, Miami-Dade used in 2000) to paperless touch-screens, Bush actually did worse, not better. At the same time, the president gained in Orange County, Florida. In 2000, Gore beat Bush in Orange County, whose largest city is Orlando; this year, Kerry lost to Bush there. And Bush didn't need rigged machines to do it: Orlando uses paper-based optical-scan voting machines -- which computer scientists consider more reliable than the touch screen systems.

Even if unfounded, the Democratic Underground set's suspicion is understandable. The exit polls were odd. And who can forget the infamous pledge of Wally O'Dell, CEO of touch-screen machine vendor Diebold, to deliver Ohio's electoral votes to Bush this year? (Ohio, however, used few paperless touch-screens.) It's certainly worthwhile to scrutinize how the technology functioned in this year's election, but to date there simply isn't the evidence to conclude that the election was "stolen" using it. One way to make sure future presidential races are above such suspicion would be to add paper trails to all the paperless machines.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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