I’m talking mostly about “errors” in communications strategy and the like. I am 98% certain that, objectively, the votes that are ostensibly in question will not have any chance of affecting the outcome once this is all cleared up. The problem is that poor communications have made things seem much more in doubt than they really are. Malloy is gonna win by a good 4,000-6,000 votes, not due to any newly discovered “box of ballots” or other shenanigans, but simply because the late-reporting cities are heavily Democratic.
The butterfly ballot fiasco also certainly favored Republicans, unless you believe in the “Elderly Jews For Buchanan” theory, in which case, uh, you’re a moron. Although admittedly, that was voter error, albeit aided by an arguably confusing (if well-intentioned) ballot design, not an “irregularity” in the same sense as a claim of intimidation or fraud.
And I don’t know if your reasoning is the same as mine.
Mine essentially follows from the point that you can never count that many paper ballots 100% accurately. Every time you count you will get a different number, either through interpretation or accident.
So the question becomes, at what resolution can we confidently count? I believe Florida was within the margin of error.
Elections are an tool of measurement. What they’re trying to measure is “the will of the voters who, being eligible to do so, chose to come out and vote that day.” Like any tool of measurement, they have a margin of error. Among the sources of error, off the top of my head:
* Some voters’ intent to vote goes unfulfilled due to long lines, missing ballots, etc. (“turned away at the polls”).
* Some voters’ intent to vote goes unfulfilled because of intimidation, misinformation, or state action of various sorts (the “voter roll purge” concept)
* On the other end of the spectrum, some voters vote who shouldn’t be able to (“voter fraud”)
* Some voters won’t accurately express their intent due to pure voter error (they don’t follow the directions, they do it wrong)
* Some voters won’t accurately express their intent due to hybrid voter/system error (confusing voting machines, confusing ballots, etc.)
* Some voters won’t accurately express their intent due to pure system error (entirely the machines’ or ballots’ fault)
* Some votes, although properly cast, won’t be properly counted due to counter error (human and/or machine)
* Some votes, improperly cast (due to voter and/or machine error) but still with an ascertainable voter intent that’s countable pursuant to the law, nevertheless won’t be properly counted, either because of error or because of different interpretations of said law at the fuzzy boundaries of voter intent.
* Math errors can occur in the count, which may not get caught and fixed.
Et cetera, et cetera.
It is simply impossible to reduce the margin of error to zero. To be clear, I believe you can get it much lower than it was in Florida in 2000. But even if you did, it would never be as low as 537 votes out 6,000,000. Are you kidding me? That’s INSANE.
I was researching this for a paper, and discovered something fascinating, at least to me: Florida wasn’t just the closest state presidential election in U.S. history that decided a national race. It was the CLOSEST ELECTION EVER, PERIOD (percentage-wise), in ANY state voting for president, in ANY year, regardless of whether the national race happened to hinge on the result of that state. And by a wide margin, too, as I recall. That is to say, Florida ‘00 was FAR AND AWAY the closest state presidential election in the entire history of the country… that’s out of, like, 2,000 or so state presidential races since 1789, if I remember correctly… and, improbably, coincidentally, it just so happened that the national election hinged on it. (As I recall, the other states in the Top 10 Closest-Ever List didn’t decide anything nationally.) A truly freakish event, a once-in-a-millennium event for our democracy, most likely. Most people really don’t understand how rare it was. They talked about Ohio in 2004 as “the new Florida” or whatever. That’s nonsense. Ohio ‘04 was a routine, kinda-close-but-actually-not-really-that-close election. Florida ‘00 was freakish, bizarre, unprecedented, a statistical anomaly of the highest order.
Here you go. I forgot that I’d done a blog post about the issue I just mentioned.
…According to Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S Presidential Elections, which has state-by-state popular vote tallies going all the way back to 1824, the 2000 presidential election in Florida was the closest in American history, percentage-wise. Not just among decisive or important states, but among all state presidential tallies, ever.
I realize that, on the surface, this may seem unsurprising, even blasé. Everybody knows Florida ‘00 was the closest election ever, right? But usually we only think of it in comparison to other close states that mattered, like Illinois and Texas in 1960 or Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina in 1876. Here, I’m comparing it to every single popular election for president ever held in any state — regardless of whether the national election was close, or whether the state in question impacted the national election at all — and it still comes out on top! That’s absolutely amazing, that the closest state presidential tally in American history also happened to decide one of the [closest] national elections in history.
To try and put it in some perspective… in the 46 presidential races since 1824, there have been 1,906 individual state popular-vote elections. Of those, only 70 individual state elections would have, by themselves, given the runner-up an Electoral College majority if he had won the state. What are the odds that the very closest of the 1,906 would also happen to be one of the 70?
Bush’s officially certified 537-vote margin over Gore amounted to a difference of 0.00901% out of the 5,963,110 votes cast in Florida. The only other margin that comes close is Henry Clay’s 0.01044% margin over Andrew Jackson in Maryland in 1832. Every other state presidential election winner in American history has had a margin at least twice the size of Bush’s in Florida seven years ago. All but four have had margins at least five times bigger.
The second-closest nationally decisive state presidential race in history was the 1884 election in New York, where Grover Cleveland beat James Blaine by 0.098%. That’s awfully close, but it’s only the 14th-closest overall, and the margin is more than ten times bigger than Bush’s margin over Gore in Florida ‘00.
And here’s a handy list:
Fifteen closest state presidential elections in American history (by percentage)
* = not winner-take-all for electors
** = determined the presidency
1. Florida 2000: Bush over Gore by 0.009%**
2. Maryland 1832: Clay over Jackson by 0.010%*
3. Maryland 1904: Roosevelt over Parker by 0.023%*
4. California 1912: Roosevelt over Wilson by 0.026%*
5. California 1892: Cleveland over Harrison by 0.052%*
6. New Mexico 2000: Gore over Bush by 0.061%
7. Kentucky 1896: McKinley over Bryan by 0.062%*
8. Hawaii 1960: Kennedy over Nixon by 0.062%
9. New Hampshire 1916: Wilson over Hughes by 0.063%
10. Kentucky 1952: Stevenson over Eisenhower by 0.070%
11. California 1880: Hancock over Garfield by 0.088%*
12. Missouri 1908: Taft over Bryan by 0.088%
13. Virginia 1860: Bell over Breckenridge by 0.093%
14. New York 1884: Cleveland over Blaine by 0.098%**
15. Minnesota 1916: Hughes over Wilson by 0.101%
So, yeah. Florida was a tie, and we almost certainly shall never see its like again (thank goodness).
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About the Authors
Brendan Loy is a 31-year-old attorney, erstwhile journalist, and veteran blogger in Denver, CO. He formerly blogged as the "Irish Trojan." Brendan's wife, Rebecca Loy, also 30, is a stay-at-home mom in Denver. Brendan and Becky have three daughters, whose blog nicknames are "Loyette," "Loyacita" and "Loyabelle." More info here. Several others blog here in The Guest Room.
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