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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Black Box Voting

My prediction for the Presidential election is: Kerry wins in a landslide, and then right-wingers spend the next four years charging ballot fraud.

That's what seems to be happening in Venezuela. Today, a friend emailed me an essay about the latest round in the battle over Venezuela's Presidential recall vote of two months ago. Venezuela's election was conducted using a mix of paper ballots and electronic voting. The electronic voting machines produced a paper trail, a print-out of the voter's choice that was deposited in a ballot box. The election was observed by the Carter Center, which, among other things, conducted an audit comparing a large random sample of the paper print-outs to the votes recorded in the machines.

In other words, the election seems to have been run a whole lot better than most US elections. And the result was a landslide, meaning that minor, Florida-style glitches wouldn't matter. And yet the Venezuelan opposition, and US right-wingers, have been screaming about electronic ballot fraud.

There's even been a battle of the econometricians (incumbent/opposition). The opposition first charged that there were a suspicious number of polling places where multiple machines showed the same number of "yes" votes. That is, in one polling place two machines might have both recorded 283 "yes" votes; in another, two machines might have both recorded 391 "yes" votes; this was alleged to have happened too many times. The charge has since been refuted, with both sides' statisticians agreeing that the ties were coincidence, not evidence of fraud.

My impression is that the claim about suspicious ties was absurd on its face, and yet it generated several months of heated charges and counter-charges. And of course, now there's a new charge, with the opposition and their statisticians claiming that the Carter Center's audit wasn't truly random. I don't know whether the new charge is true or not, though I'm inclined to believe the Carter Center, which says the elections were fair.

But either way, I wouldn't be surprised if Venezuela's ongoing fight over ballot fraud (or lack thereof) is in our future. After all, US right-wingers have already been practicing up for the battle.


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