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Book Reviews Books Media

Who won? 555

doom writes "I think they call them "exit polls" because people bolt for the exits when you mention them, but I'm still fascinated by the subject myself, and this book is one of the reasons why. In Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?, the central focus is, of course, on the infamous exit-poll discrepancies of the 2004 US Presidential election; but the authors also put it into context: they discuss the 2000 election, the irregularities in Ohio in 2004, the electronic voting machines issues, and the media's strange reluctance to report on any of these problems. Further, in the chapter "How did America really vote?", they compare the indications of the raw exit-poll data to other available polling data. Throughout, Freeman and Bleifuss do an excellent job of presenting arguments based on statistical analysis in a clear, concise way." Read the rest of doom's review
Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?
author Steve Freeman & Joel Bleifuss
pages 265
publisher Seven Stories Press
rating 9
reviewer doom
ISBN 1583226877
summary Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count

The heart of the book in my opinion, is Chapter 5, "The inauguration eve exit-poll report": The Edison and Mitofsky firms that conducted the NEP exit polls later released a report trying to explain how they could have gotten it so far wrong. Freeman and Bleifuss, of course, take issue with the presumption that the discrepancies must be "errors", and argue in a different direction. This section makes an exciting read (in a nerdy sort of way) it's an impressive piece of statistical judo: Freeman and Bleifuss take on Edison/Mitofsky with their own data, and totally shred their conclusions. The authors show: That the exit-poll discrepancies had a statistically significant correlation with the use of electronic voting machines, with races in battleground states, and in almost all cases favored the Republicans. The "Reluctant Bush Respondant" theory looks extremely unlikely: response rates actually look slightly better in Bush strongholds than in Kerry strongholds; and while media skepticism remains strong among conservatives, it has been on the rise among Democrats, and yet the data shows no shift in relative avoidance of pollsters. They also deal with the various other excuses that were floated shortly after the election: The discrepancies can't be shrugged off with an "exit polls are not reliable" — theory shows that they should be better than any other survey data, and history shows that they always have been pretty reliable. There was no upswing of support for Bush throughout election day — that impression was entirely an artifact of the media "correcting" the exit-poll figures to match the official results. One of the book's authors, Steven Freeman, was one of the first to examine the exit-poll discrepancies, and as a professor at University of Pennsylvania with a background in survey design, he was well equipped to begin delving into the peculiarities he had noticed.

Overall, this is an excellent book for people interested in evaluating the data; with lots of graphs that make it easy to do informal estimates of the strength of their conclusions (just eye-balling the scatter, the correlations they point to look real, albeit a little loose, as you might expect). There's also an appendix with a very clear exposition of the the concept of statistical significance, and how it applies to this polling data. There are of course, limits to what one can conclude just from the exit-poll discrepancies: "We reiterate that this does not prove the official vote count was fraudulent. What it does say is that the discrepancy between the official count and the exit polls can't be just a statistical fluke, but commands some kind of systematic explanation: Either the exit poll was deeply flawed or else the vote count was corrupted. "

This is a remarkably restrained book: unlike many authors addressing this controversial subject, Freeman and Bleifuss have resisted the temptation to rant or speculate or even to editorialize very much. Freeman claims that he is not a political person (and adds "I despise the Democrats"); possibly this has helped him to maintain his neutrality and focus on the facts of the case.

Personally, I found this book to be something of a revelation: in the confusion immediately after the 2004 election, I had the impression that the people who wanted to believe that it was legitimate at least had some wiggle room. There was some disagreement about the meaning of the exit polls: there was that study at Berkeley that found significant problems, but then the MIT study chimed in saying there wasn't, so who do you believe? The thing is, the MIT guys later admitted that they got it wrong: they used the "corrected" data, not the originally reported exit poll results. The media never covered that development, and I missed it myself...

On the subject of electronic voting machines, They include a chapter discussing electronic voting in general which covers ground that is by now familiar with most readers here: the strange case of Wally O'Dell and Diebold; and also the lesser known problems with ES&S. Have you heard this one? "In 1992, Hagel, then an investment banker and president of the holding company McCarthy & Co., became chairman of American Information Systems, which was to become ES&S in 1999. [...] In the 1996 elections, Hagel launched his political career with two stunning upsets. He won a primary victory in Nebraska [...] despite the fact that he was not well known. Then, in the general election, Hagel was elected to the Senate in what Business Week described as 'an unexpected 1996 landslide victory over Ben Nelson, Nebraska's popular Democratic governor.'"

My experience is that a lot of people need to hear this point: "The voting machine company Datamark, which became American Information Systems and is now known as ES&S, was founded in 1980 by two brothers, Bob and Todd Urosevich. Today, Todd is a vice president at ES&S and Bob is CEO of Diebold Election Systems."

It's impossible to see how you can come away from this situation without seeing that we badly need reform of the electoral system: even if you don't believe the 2004 election was "stolen", how do you know the next one isn't going to be? A paper trail that can actually be recounted would be a nice start, eh? But only a start. As the author's point out: "We devoted a chapter to the ills of electronic voting, but a critical lesson of the 2004 election is that not only DREs, but all kinds of voting machine systems are suspect. Edison/Mitofsky data showed that while hand counted ballots accurately reflected exit-poll survey results, counts from all the major categories of voting machines did not."

In one short passage, the authors list a few "grounds for hope", but following up on these points is not encouraging: The Diebold-injunction law suit in California brought by VoterAction has since been denied and one attempt at a paper trail amendment, HR 550 has stalled out.

If you're looking for an answer to the question posed by the book's title, the authors conclude: "So how did America really vote? Every independent measure points to a Kerry victory of about 5 percentage points in the popular vote nationwide, a swing of 8 to 10 million votes from the official count."

Of the many and various potentially depressing books out there about the state of the United States, I recommend this one highly: it addresses a critical set of issues that everything else depends on.

You can purchase Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Who won?

Comments Filter:
  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheOldSchooler ( 850678 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @03:18PM (#17651492)
    'Freeman claims that he is not a political person (and adds "I despise the Democrats")'

    So hating one of the major political parties involved in that election makes him neutral?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hansamurai ( 907719 )
      It's the fundamental value of most of the US right now. We're all neutral.
    • Re:What? (Score:5, Funny)

      by ThinkFr33ly ( 902481 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @03:26PM (#17651598)
      If you're a "Fox News Republican" then, yes, hating the Democrats is a prerequisite for being considered unbiased.
    • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dan828 ( 753380 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @03:32PM (#17651722)
      No, the author is just trying to suggest he isn't just another democrat fanboy that will bash the republicans no matter what. It doesn't make him neutral, but it is an attempt to say that he's not biased against the particular group that he's accusing of rigging the election. He'll sell more books that way, you see.
    • Re:What? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Creepy Crawler ( 680178 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @03:32PM (#17651730)
      Thats what I got too.
      Bias is not wrong by any means, but understanding that bias and choosing why that bias applies to you us a beginning to understand how to factor it out of your judgments.

      Now on to election stuff... Our country has a well defined system of voting presidents and thats via the electoral votes. Those votes are made by the electoral members we choose to send, and these numbers are based upon congress and senate votes (congress is population based, and senate is 2 per state). Because of thos, we can technically have one president declared the winner by mass majority, but our system prevents democracy by limiting damage by the majority.

      And when it comes down to the election itself, Im a Libertarian and want the government to stop nannying me around and to get their hands out of my wallet. That aside, voting with these terminals are horrendously insecure. This insecurity affects all candidates, as election skew undermines the will of the people. So what if the "Republicans are in bed with Diebold" or whatnot. Im sure Democrats are also.

      Id rather have the most liberal democrat voted as president (Im thinking Chavez'ian socialist) than have a illegally voted in Libertarian.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )
        And - don't forget - there's not only the electoral vote, but the electoral college. These are not things which 'rig the system' inherrently; they're necessary in a democratic republic.

        Unfortunately, the republicanism of our nation has been marginalized, as the electoral college in particular requires a sizeable representative mass of House members. This doesn't mean one or two or three per state, or what have you, as it is now. It means we need to have probably close to a thousand House members, all repres
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by westlake ( 615356 )
          The way districting currently is set up rigs House votes in favor of urban, populated areas. Using my own home state (SD) as an example, the ideal would be to give one representative to the two main population centers in the state each, and then two more for the more rural areas of the state - one for west of the Missouri; the other for east of it. This is more in line with the intent of our founding fathers.

          The population of South Dakota is 776,000. (2205) South Dakota Quick Facts From The U.S. Census [census.gov]

    • 'Freeman claims that he is not a political person (and adds "I despise the Democrats")'

      So hating one of the major political parties involved in that election makes him neutral?

      He's probably a Green. They despise the Democrats without being political people. Or at least, without being **elected** people.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by arth1 ( 260657 )
      'Freeman claims that he is not a political person (and adds "I despise the Democrats")'

      So hating one of the major political parties involved in that election makes him neutral?

      Despite what you might think, few things are black and white. The enemy of your enemy doesn't have to be your friend. Freeman can despise the democrats and fear the republicans without being a fan of either.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by BakaHoushi ( 786009 )
        But... but... whatever happened to "With us or against us?" You mean that DOESN'T work? I am SHOCKED!

        If what you're suggesting is true, it may even suggest the following: Let's pretend you have an enemy. Let's call them... "Bommunists..." to make up a totally original word. And to combat them, you give some crazy people in another country weapons and funding to fight them for you. Let's call this country... "Bafghanistan." You're suggesting that these people may not be real allies and hurt you in the end?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "So hating one of the major political parties involved in that election makes him neutral?"

      Hey, it works for Bill O'Reilly!
  • by xzvf ( 924443 )
    Did "THEY" forget how to cheat in 2006? Or did "THEY" want Bush to win in 2000 and 2004 knowing he would destroy the Republican majority in Congress? Or did "THEY" ?
    • by benhocking ( 724439 ) <benjaminhocking@ya h o o .com> on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @03:33PM (#17651752) Homepage Journal
      I'm not saying they cheated in '04, but the '06 results don't disprove it. They can only cheat so much without getting caught. With the huge backlash in '06, it would have been much more difficult to pull off.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lawpoop ( 604919 )
      The problem is, you can only cheat just so much without making it terribly obvious. If your candidates win all the elections all the time, everybody knows you are cheating. However, if you use cheating just to give your team an edge, you can get away with it. If the elections are close, you can flip them; if not, you would attract a lot of attention if the outcome was wildly different than all of the polls.

      I heard some story somewhere that there was the same level of 'discrepancies' in the vote in 2006;
  • by Dr Kool, PhD ( 173800 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @03:28PM (#17651634) Homepage Journal
    It was all part of the evil Karl Rove trifecta of evil. First we stole the election, then we steered hurricane Katrina right into New Orleans (with the patented Karl Rove Neocon Magic Weather Machine), and to complete the hat trick we blew up the levies to flood the black parts of town. It was a great success, just like the time we went back in time with Microsoft Word 1972 edition to make a fool out of Dan Rather.
  • ... what happened in November? Did they forget to press the "cheat" button, or did they maybe lose on purpose in a conspiracy to discredit all the people who showed how they cheated before? (How fiendish of them!)

    The Democrats lost in 2004 because they had a crappy candidate, and let the republicans control the debate. Get over it already.

    • by nagora ( 177841 )
      what happened in November? Did they forget to press the "cheat" button, or did they maybe lose on purpose in a conspiracy to discredit all the people who showed how they cheated before?

      Or maybe the vote was 6% against them instead of the 5% they got by cheating.

      Listen: we all know they cheated their balls off. It's not even difficult to find the evidence. The Republicans cheated, we all know it, put it behind you and just make sure it doesn't happen again, okay?


  • by Lord_Slepnir ( 585350 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @03:28PM (#17651642) Journal
    Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos.

    This just about sums up my sentiments for voting for either of the two major political parties.

  • by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @03:32PM (#17651720)
    Granted, something needs explaining and voting machines are vulnerable. But what are the chances that a conspiracy of this magnitude has remained secret? Not to say that an election can't be rigged, but wouldn't there be so many people with direct involvement that it would be impossible to keep everyone silent? Until someone steps forward and says "I did X & Y at the direction of Mr Z," I'm going to lump it along side of "The CIA killed Kennedy." Possible, but lacking solid evidence.
    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @03:41PM (#17651924) Homepage Journal
      But what are the chances that a conspiracy of this magnitude has remained secret?

      A single person in the right place could have compromised all electronic voting machines from a given company. Just something to think about.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Yeah, how can a conspiracy of this scale stay unnoticed, without someone leaking? You would need at the very least ONE programmer to make the actual change. How on earth can they keep something of that scale quiet?

      Okay, okay, in all fairness, you need about five. The two brothers that are CEOs at Diebold and ES&S, Karl Rove, and two unwitting programmers that quite possibly make a requested change from their CEO without being told what it is really for.

    • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @05:13PM (#17653934) Homepage Journal
      "Until someone steps forward and says "I did X & Y at the direction of Mr Z,""

      Here you go:

      Clint Curtis [wikipedia.org] testified before congress that

      "At the behest of Rep. Tom Feeney, in September 2000, he was asked to write a program for a touchscreen voting machine that would make it possible to change the results of an election undetectably. This technology, Curtis explained , could also be used in any electronic tabulation machine or scanner. Curtis assumed initially that this effort was aimed at detecting Democratic fraud, but later learned that it was intended to benefit the Republican Party.

      West Palm Beach was named as an intended target, but used punched card ballots in the 2000 elections. Indeed, West Palm Beach was famous for the "hanging chad" recounts of that election."

      Here's [alternet.org] a video of his testimony.
  • Are we blind? (Score:2, Insightful)

    People are too eager to believe that the election was rigged, but they're simply outraged at the possibility that the exit polls could have been botched or rigged themselves.
  • Seems to me it is a solution without a problem. Couldn't you avoid vote-counting concerns entirely by casting paper ballots, then allowing anyone with an interest in the counting process to witness the tally. Count the votes publicly, perhaps in a gymnasium or library, with a camera to record the counting process as well as to transmit a feed to an internet site. I believe they do something similar in Canada now. I would gladly exchange the additional time necessary to conduct the count manually with wi
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by PhysicsPhil ( 880677 )

      Seems to me it is a solution without a problem. Couldn't you avoid vote-counting concerns entirely by casting paper ballots, then allowing anyone with an interest in the counting process to witness the tally. Count the votes publicly, perhaps in a gymnasium or library, with a camera to record the counting process as well as to transmit a feed to an internet site. I believe they do something similar in Canada now. I would gladly exchange the additional time necessary to conduct the count manually with witne

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @03:34PM (#17651770)
    Anyone who lives in or near Chicago know that poll workers and authorities have ways to adjust the totals. Nationally, I wouldn't be surprised if local polling place authorities tip it one way or another by 1-3% every two years. (Remember the Kennedy election supposedly tipped by an unlikely surge of Chicago Democrats?) However, I'd just rack it up to real democracy in action.

    In 2004 I'm perfectly willing to believe (and accept) that the average pollworker (usually someone who likes stable government, whatever theit political leaning) was more willing to give W the benefit of the doubt and helped him win a squeaker. In 2006 it was hard to find people (even fans of stable government) who wouldn't have liked the current president to hit the road, so I'm not surprised the mystery surge of 2004 disappeared in 2006; even W's former fans were sick of his s*** by then.

  • exit polls are the most accurate kind of poll.

  • To those pooh-poohing this sort of investigation: with a voting system as untrustworthy as DRE, this is the inevitable outcome. Poring over exit polls looking for voting pattern discrepancies is the only way to have any idea if the machines are accurately reporting the vote. If you don't like it, join the campaign for a voting system that can be seen to be fair on its own merits.
  • Am I the only one sick of all these election analysis books and articles? Whats done is done already. Even if a smoking gun was exposed saying that blatant fraud was discovered in one or both elections, what would it accomplish? As much as I'd love to press reset and go back to 2000, that ain't gonna happen. We can't suddenly say all policy created in the last 7 years is invalid, that would cause as much of a mess as the last 7 years created.

    Lets just say, yes there was questionable events of the last 2
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by syphax ( 189065 )
      Even if a smoking gun was exposed saying that blatant fraud was discovered in one or both elections, what would it accomplish?

      A strong impetus for election reform, to minimize the likelihood of future fraud?
  • At this point, we are far too close to these events and their repercussions to even begin to hope of the slightest possibility of imagining how history looking back impartially on this fiasco.

    For a real, insightful, bias-free look at the 2000/2004 election controversy, wait for one of our great-grandchildren to write it. Until then, either accept or reject the various biased accounts, parsing them accordingly as your owm bias permits.
  • by 2.7182 ( 819680 )
    My copy physically fell apart 2 weeks after buying it. (Hardcopy). I think the binding just disintegrated.
  • It's trivial to get a computer to print one thing and do something else.

    You know whether or not an ATM screws up your account but you have no way of knowing if it added up everybody's account correctly.

    Somewhere out there on the intarweb tube is a story about how the Cleveland Plain Dealer had conducted pre-election polling for years and been impressively close to how the elections turned out each time and then along came the 2004 elections and they were wildly off in certain precincts, all of whom went for

  • techniques to prevent fraud, like requiring IDs, purging voter rolls of people who've died or moved, or using ballots that can be actually recounted (like punch cards) are actually attempts by the Republicans to suppress Democratic voters.

    Because, just because you need ID to buy a booze or cigs doesn't mean it's reasonable to require ID to vote.
  • by OglinTatas ( 710589 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @03:43PM (#17651954)
    what shall we replace it with? the exit polls?

    The point of the electoral college is similar to the point of the senate. They are both there to ensure the STATES have a voice in government. This is the United STATES of America, but people have come to believe it is the Federal Republic of America. If you believe that you personally were disenfranchised by the last 2 elections because you didn't vote for Bush (I didn't vote for Bush the last 3 times, btw) then maybe it is not so much a sign that the elecoral college is at fault, it is that the central government has grown way too powerful and has swept the individual states into irrelevancy. The best government is at the local level, where you are better aware of your governing needs than some beltway insider 1000 miles away. Next best is state government, only 100 miles away.

    I do agree voting machines need a papertrail, though I am vehemently opposed to the idea of giving the voter a receipt--anything that a voter can carry out to indicate how he voted will inevitably lead to coercive voting. If the local political machine can make sure you voted "correctly," (or else!) that is no better than non-audited electronic boxes manufactured by supporters of that political machine.

  • Nintendo! (Score:3, Funny)

    by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @04:01PM (#17652242) Homepage Journal
    Oh wait no, I mean LInux! Oh wait no I mean Firefly, oh wait no, what competition was this again?
  • by sheldon ( 2322 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @04:13PM (#17652470)
    that the way the exit polling was conducted was flawed, and can be easily misread. This is based on comparing 2006 results to 2004 results...

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/12/23/91222 /483 [dailykos.com]

    Ok, I shouldn't say kos... as it was DemFromCT, but it did get promoted to the front page.
  • by 0xABADC0DA ( 867955 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @04:52PM (#17653430)
    A simple, safe, completely OSS voting system can be made with only say tens or hundreds of hours of work. The key is to make it completely secure by only requiring trust in the ballot box, which is not electronic -- everything else is directly observable by the poll workers, observers, or voter. This lets you leverage any technology out there.

    Voting machine:

    1. Setup linux distro with apache, tomcat, whatever
    2. Install ballot web app
    3. Setup CUPS printer
    4. Setup firefox for kiosk mode, home page is voting app

    Ballots print like this, one measure per line:

                        PRESIDENT: AL GORE
                        SENATE: JAMES WEBB
                        STEM-CELL: YES

    During the election, voters take their printout and drop it into the ballot box. After the election these are counted individually at each polling place using a counting machine.

    Counting machine:

    1. Setup linux distro
    2. Install ballot counter program
    3. Run ballots through OCR software
    4. Update counters (in realtime as scanned)

    For the counting program, all it needs to do is keep a count of unique lines on the ballots as returned by the OCR. It should include a simple display showing the most frequent lines and their count (sorted by count) along with the last vote scanned. This way it doesn't need to know anything about the election in order to count it.

    For the voting machine you can add fancy CSS styles, javascript to prevent accidental undervoting, screen readers, on-screen keyboard, etc. To polish the system you will want to have some specific printer hardware so the votes print on something smaller than a sheet per vote.
  • by DragonTHC ( 208439 ) <Dragon@gamerslas ... com minus distro> on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @04:56PM (#17653518) Homepage Journal
    we have to first ask about the 2000 election.

    bush never won legally. in Volusia County, FL one precinct tallied -16000 votes for Gore. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volusia_error [wikipedia.org]
    that's right, negative votes. which logically and legally is impossible. but technically possible.
    since they say bush won by 500 votes, this proves that bush never won the presidency legally.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by drig ( 5119 )
      But that Wiki article says the Volusia error was corrected. It had done its damage when Fox announced Florida for Bush, but still, the final tally didn't include the -16000 votes for Gore.
  • by SRA8 ( 859587 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2007 @06:39PM (#17655662)
    How interesting that the book discusses "the media's strange reluctance to report on any of these problems" This is what bothers me most -- because a true democracy is automatically kept in check by the free press. However, I am convinced that that big media is afraid of *someone* and thus not reporting on the likely stolen election.

    If this sounds like a "conspiracy theory" someone please explain "the media's strange reluctance to report on any of these problems"

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