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81[RRE]Florida recount

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  • Phil Agre
    Nov 10, 2000
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      [After sending out 100+ URL's relating to the US presidential voting
      irregularities in Florida, I've stopped collecting URL's from the major
      national media (nytimes.com, washingtonpost.com, salon.com, cnn.com).
      I'll still collect useful URL's from other sources, at least for now,
      but I expect that the major flood is over. I've moved all of the URL's
      relating to the election, almost all of which relate to the controversy
      in Florida, onto a single page separate from the other URL's from RRE:


      That said, here is an actual photo of the contested ballot from Palm
      Beach County, which is worse than you might have heard:


      Here is an image of the sample ballot that was sent to voters in that
      county. Observe that it does not show how the holes are arranged:


      Here is a study of the ballot from the point of view of information
      design, showing how else it could have been done:


      I've enclosed two messages, one by a Democratic Party observer in
      the recount room at the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections,
      and another by an academic expert on the Palm Beach ballot layout.
      Both have been reformatted to 70 columns.

      Last point. The people who have been sending me personally abusive
      e-mail need to realize that they are only strengthening my resolve
      that people like them should not be running my country.]

      This message was forwarded through the Red Rock Eater News Service (RRE).
      You are welcome to send the message along to others but please do not use
      the "redirect" option. For information about RRE, including instructions
      for (un)subscribing, see http://dlis.gseis.ucla.edu/people/pagre/rre.html

      Date: Thu, 9 Nov 2000 03:44:25 EST
      From: StevenM820@...
      Subject: Florida recount info

      Hello again,

      Thought you'd like another update from the inside. I spent much of
      Wed. as the Palm Beach County Dem. Party observer in the recount room
      at the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections. Also present were
      lawyers and a staffer representing GWB, several lawyers representing
      Gore, representatives of the Reform Party, the Fla. Democratic
      and Republican Parties, the DNCC, US Rep. Clay Shaw and his Dem.
      challenger Elaine Bloom (this race is still contested), a Dem. State
      Senator and a Dem. State Representative from the County.

      The recount was supposed to begin at 1:30, was delayed until 4:00 and
      ended at 11:30. Our role basically consisted of sitting in a cramped
      room watching five staffers run stacks of puch card ballots through
      counting machines. Pretty dull all in all until it was discovered
      that one precinct had not been counted in full. This resulted in a
      net gain for Al of about 360 votes. The Bush boys lost their smug
      attitudes and began huddling and whispering every few minutes.

      The absentees came through for Al too. When one votes at the polls
      in Florida, they provide a punch instrument which, if used correctly,
      completely perforates the ballot. However, absentee voters often
      use a pen or other implement which does not fully perforate the card.
      This was apparent to us from the fact that over 10,000 voters in the
      County, about 2.2% of the overall turnout did not make any choice in
      the Presidential race, but did vote in the US Senate or Congressional
      races. We theorized that many voters had partially perforated
      the card, but the machines weren't reading them. The more times the
      ballots are run through the counting machine, the more likely the
      loosened chits fall off.

      When the absentees were counted, 221 ballots that had previously
      registered no vote now did show a vote in the Presidential race.
      These went overwhelmingly for Gore, leading to some whooping and high
      fiving from our side. The Bushies really lost it at this point and
      got a little hostile with the staffers, which in turn elicited some
      harsh responses from the assembled masses.

      Gore's net gain in the County was 643. Word from other counties is
      that Gore closed the 1,700 deficit by over 1,200. Only half of the
      counties conducted their recounts on Wednesday. The rest are on

      The bigger problem is that the ballot in Palm Beach County, which
      differs in its layout from the ballots elsewhere in the State, is
      illegal for several reasons. Florida statutes specifically mandate
      the precise layout of the ballot and the order of candidates. The law
      was not followed. Bush's name was first, with Buchanan below him and
      Gore third. This is completely improper, as well as the fact that the
      law requires the names to be placed to the left with the punch holes
      to the right of the candidates' names. On this ballot, some names
      were on the right and some on the left, with all of the punch holes
      in the middle. It was difficult to line up the name with the correct

      Moreover, 19,000 ballots were disqualified because they voted for two
      or more candidates. This is a direct result of the confusing layout
      of the names on the ballot. This represents over 4% of the total
      ballots. It was as high as 15% in some predominantly African-American
      precincts and about 10% in some precincts with large numbers of Jewish
      retirees. The Gore vote in many of these precincts was over 90%.

      This explains the networks' exit polling which reflected voters'
      belief that they had voted for Gore, but in fact their ballots had
      been disqualified. This led to the initial awarding of Florida to

      Folks, the bottom line is that if the names on the ballot were
      properly situated Gore would have had an additional 11-13,000 vote
      margin in this County, and the election would be over. We have done
      a precinct by precinct analysis of where the disqualified votes came
      from. By attributing the same percentage of the vote Gore obtained
      in those precincts to the disqualified ballots, Gore would be winning
      Florida by at least 10,000 votes. In other words, Gore has actually
      won the election both in the popular vote and in the electoral vote,
      but he may well still lose it.

      You should also be aware that other large counties in the State
      disqualified about one half of one percent of their ballots for
      casting two or more votes in the Presidential race. In Palm Beach
      County it was 4.4%.

      Lastly, don't expect the recount to be over on Thursday, as the media
      is stating. Legal actions are underway. The next question, will a
      judge order a re-vote just in Palm Beach County with a new ballot?

      Steven Meyer '86

      Date: Thu, 09 Nov 2000 16:15:51 -0800
      From: Don Dillman <dillman@...>
      To: aapornet@...
      Subject: Palm Beach Ballot

      Yesterday I was interviewed by an AP reporter who faxed me a copy of
      the Palm Beach County ballot and interviewed me a few minutes later.
      I was quoted in her article that appeared today in a number of media
      outlets, where I was identified as being from the American Association
      for Public Opinion Research. Two things seemed apparent to me after
      the phone call. One was that I was likely to be called by other media
      people and asked to react, and second, that the visual design issues,
      at least as I see them, are somewhat complex.

      Consequently, I decided to put together a written statement concerning
      the problems I think the ballot exhibits, which I am inserting below
      in this message. I am sending this to AAPORNET partly because of the
      number of messages that have appeared about the ballot in the last two
      days. Also I want to make it clear to the members of AAPOR that I am
      speaking as an individual on this issue, and not as a representative
      of AAPOR or my employer, Washington State University. Thus, I
      have added what I hope is a clarifying statement that this statement
      represents my personal opinions based on past research and experiences
      in the development of self-administered questionnaires.

      November 9, 2000

      Statement by Don A. Dillman on Palm Beach County Florida Ballot

      Several people have asked for my opinion on whether the format of
      the November 7, 2000, general election ballot in Palm Beach County,
      Florida, resulted in more people voting for Buchanan that had intended
      to do so. This statement is in response to those requests.

      I cannot say with certainty whether the format of this ballot affected
      a certain number of people who thus voted by mistake for Pat Buchanan,
      while intending to vote for another candidate. That would require
      knowledge of what specific people did in the voting booth Tuesday,
      which I don't have. However, based on my experiences and past
      research concerning how the visual format of questionnaires affects
      respondents to surveys, I believe it is likely that certain visual
      features of the ballot resulted in some individuals who wished to vote
      for Gore inadvertently punching the second hole in the column, thus
      resulting in a vote for Buchanan. These visual attributes may also
      have resulted in double punches as people attempted to correct their
      error. However, I do not think that voters who intended to vote for
      Bush were similarly affected.

      I believe this outcome occurred because of the joint effects of
      several undesirable features of the Palm Beach County ballot, rather
      than a single attribute. These factors include: (1) the listing of
      some candidates for President on the left-hand page of the ballot,
      while others were listed in a separate group on the right-hand page;
      (2) use of a single column of circles between the pages to register
      one's vote, regardless of which page contained the candidate's
      name; (3) the lack of familiarity some people may have had with how
      to answer a punch ballot printed in this format; (4) the likelihood
      that most people knew which candidate they wanted to vote for prior
      to seeing any of the choices on the ballot; (5) the location of the
      presidential choices on the first pages of the ballot; and (6) the
      visual process people typically follow when registering preferences
      on a survey questionnaire or election ballot when it is unnecessary
      to read all choices (names of presidential candidates, for example)
      before registering one's vote. In order to mark their ballot, it
      was necessary for people to insert their paper ballot underneath the
      booklet that showed the ballot choices. They were then required to
      use a stick-pin answering device to punch through a circle on the
      ballot to make a hole in the paper ballot.

      When people open and/or begin to read material printed in a booklet
      format, they tend to look first at the left-hand page and focus
      their attention there. Because this is a ballot in which most people
      expect to vote on most or all of the choices, it is also likely that
      they would expect to answer the questions in order. It is therefore
      likely that many voters began reading the left-hand page without
      first looking at the second page and seeing what material was printed
      there. Thus, they may have been unaware that some of the candidates
      for president were listed on the opposite page.

      Most people who completed the ballot knew who they wanted to vote for
      prior to reading the list of names. Thus, rather than attempting to
      read all of the answer possibilities before marking their choice, they
      simply looked for the name of the candidate for whom they wished to
      vote. The typical procedure would be to start at the top of the list
      and read downwards until the preferred candidate was found.

      After reading the first candidate's name (Bush) on the left-hand
      page, people who wanted to vote for him should have been guided to the
      answer column by the number and an arrow. That circle was also the
      first (or top) circle in the answer column. It therefore seems quite
      unlikely that the voter would by-pass the first circle and mark the
      second circle, thereby voting for Buchanan, by mistake.

      In contrast, people who wanted to vote for Gore, and had just seen
      Bush's name, would be expected to go straight down the page as they
      searched for Gore's name. After finding it, people are likely to
      have moved their fingers and thumb that held the stick-pin punching
      device to the appropriate punching location. It is likely that
      in the process of doing this some people (particularly those who
      are right-handed) did not see the number and arrow pointing to the
      appropriate answer circle because it was obscured by their hand.
      They may have also concluded that the second hole in the column was
      the correct one to punch, simply because Gore was the second candidate
      on the page. Thus, both the locational feature (being second) and
      mechanics of answering seem likely to have worked together in a way
      that led some people to inadvertently punch the second hole (Buchanan
      choice) rather than the third hole (Gore choice).

      The possibility that some circles in the column of possible answers
      applied to Buchanan (on the next page) is unlikely to have occurred to
      some respondents. It is most unusual for any ballot or questionnaire
      to list choices to the first page to the right of the names, while
      choices to the second page are listed to the left of the names, and
      in addition to have all of them listed in a single column. Therefore,
      I would expect that some respondents had no idea that any of the
      choices in the answer column applied to the next page instead of
      to the candidates on page one. This problem was accentuated by the
      presidential preference being listed on the first page of the ballot,
      before the respondent had figured out, through experience, exactly how
      the ballot worked.

      It does seem likely that some respondents who marked the second circle
      would have noticed that it was not aligned with the Gore box in the
      same way as the first circle was aligned with the Bush box. However,
      among those who noticed the different alignment this feature may have
      been discounted, because of their having to link together physically
      separate components (the actual paper ballot and the booklet listing
      candidate names) and the association of the second circle in the
      column with the second candidate (Gore) choice.

      I would also expect that some ballots were double punched (Gore and
      Buchanan) as voters started to punch the second circle, realized they
      were making an error, and attempted to recover from it.

      Despite the visual and mechanical problems that individually
      and jointly increase the likelihood that Gore preference voters
      unintentionally and unknowingly voted for Buchanan, the nature of the
      problem is such that it would not affect most voters. Most people are
      able to "figure-out" how to answer questions when they are presented
      in a visually inappropriate way, as was done in this situation.
      However, I am also confident that some Gore-preference voters would
      have made the error described above. At the same time, and for the
      reasons described above, Bush-preference voters were not likely to
      make the same mistake.

      1Don A. Dillman is the Thomas S. Foley Distinguished Professor of
      Government and Public Policy at Washington State University in
      Pullman, Washington. The opinions expressed here are his own and
      should not be attributed to his employer, Washington State University,
      or to the American Association for Public Opinion Research, for which
      he now serves as Vice-President and President-Elect. Background on
      the theory and research that lead to the interpretations reported
      here are published in Chapter 3 of Dillman, Don A. 2000 Mail and
      Internet Surveys: The Tailored Design Method, New York: John Wiley;
      and Jenkins, Cleo R. and Don A. Dillman 1997 "Towards a Theory of
      Self-Administered Questionnaire Design," Chapter 7 of Lyberg, Lars, et
      al., Survey Measurement and Process Quality, (pp.165-196,) New York:
      Wiley Interscience.

      Don A. Dillman, Social and Economic Sciences Research Center
      and Departments of Sociology and Rural Sociology
      Washington State University
      Pullman, WA 99164-4014
      phone: 509-335-1511
      fax: 509-335-0116
      e-mail: dillman@...
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