Distributed Mind

November 24, 2004

Florida Voting Machines Scrutinized Again

by ben

Wired has an article on the latest investigation into voting machines in Florida. This time though it is touch-screen machines instead of optical scan machines (the researchers ruled out any problems there - glad to see I wasn't the only one). A group at UC Berkeley (UC DATA) claims there are anomalies in the vote tallies for counties using touch-screen voting machines. The difference would not be large enough to question the outcome of the election in Florida, but is primarily about how well the machines work. This is exactly the kind of study that needs to be done. I don't know if this study is any good or not, though in time we will probably have a better idea after other researchers take a look at it. But, this is the kind of study that needs to be done.

[Remainder of article]
02:53:15 - Politics - ben - No comments

November 15, 2004

Defending the Electoral College?

by ben

Discover Magazine has up an article about a guy named Natapoff and his proof of the superiority of the electoral college over a strict popular majority system. I think I need to think more about this, but I don't agree with his analysis. I know, how can I argue with a proof? (And mind you I haven't read the technical paper the article is based on, admittedly.) Well, for one thing, his criterion may be too simple, and his assumptions may be flawed. Merely maximizing an individuals probability of affecting the outcome of the election (while assuming that voters do not have an equal probability of voting for either of two candidates - which is true, but perhaps not useful) is probably not enough to ensure a satisfactory outcome.

The analysis seems also based on only two candidates (or with all other candidates having a negligible number of votes). It would be wise to include other possibilities.

01:34:59 - Politics - ben - No comments

November 09, 2004

Overreaction on My Part

by ben

I apologize... I did overreact this morning. I don't think Hartmann's analysis was that bad, though I do think he is mistaken, based on a cursory examination. Likewise, I definitely overstated the case against "crying wolf." While I think some people were definitely going to claim fraud regardless, the kind of claims Hartmann made were not unreasonable, if premature. And I know if something were to happen, it would requrie momentum, which can only be built by people complaining, essentially. I still don't think that any of these claims are wholly correct, but I apologize for overreacting and being hyper-critical.

13:15:04 - Politics - ben - No comments

How the Country Voted

by ben

To quell all these red vs. blue arguments, here is how the country actually voted, scaled by color to represent the margin of each county:

The map was produced by M. T. Gastner, C. R. Shalizi, and M. E. J. Newman, who have made some other maps too.

The most useful of their other maps, though a little less visually decisive, is their cartographic version of the map above. The counties are scaled to represent the number of votes:

You can see that really only certain areas in the middle of the country are solidly Republican/Bush, and a few urban areas are solidly Democrat/Kerry. Most of the country is that sickly purple of 51%.

10:25:56 - Politics - ben - No comments

Couple More Notes on Vote Fraud and Hack

by ben

The MSNBC article sounds better, but in most cases says nothing really damning, at least about Florida. Except, I did like the one about more votes cast than registered voters. That would be a pretty good sign something went wrong, eh?

I did want to adress preemptively the fact that the optical scan voting machines had much larger margins (in terms of the gap between registration and how people actually voted) than the ones with touchsreen voting machines. I noticed that, but I also noticed that Vilensky's numbers show the margins were as large in 1996. And, since some of these are small counties, margins like that can be large easily, especially sine the "Dixiecrat theory" is going to be true in rural counties. Also, note that the counties using touchscreens are... huge in comparison to smaller counties. So, urban counties voted more consistently. Come to your own conclusions as to what that may or may not mean. (Other than when Olbernmann says "nothing in common" he is flat wrong. And note in general the large difference between registration and voting don't occur in most of the large optical scan counties. Check Hartmann's data.)

Exit polls: The exit polls weren't wrong. They were within [as far as I have seen] their margin of error. So, don't be bringing exit polls to me because they don't contradict the vote data. Exit polls are going to be somewhat unreliable, because they aren't truly random, which is the most important condition to get really good numbers out of a poll or survey.

10:17:58 - Politics - ben - No comments

Massive Voter Fraud? Hacked Elections? Jury out.

by ben

Well, since Justin finally brought it up... I had been holding out, waiting till there was something conclusive, not wanting to feed the paranoia, and not wanting to cover over possible real incidents. So far, I haven't really seen anything that impressed me. We know there was voter fraud, since there always is. Whether the optical scan databases were really used to throw the election is another story... I... Well, I doubt it. I saw the article Justin linked to. I thought it was pretty good. Then, it turns out the Dixiecrat theory may be correct. One Yevgeny Vilensky checks some of the numbers and finds... Well that they voted for Bush by large margins not only in 2000, but in 1996 as well. Assuming Vilensky's data is correct, Hartmann's analysis is just plain wrong, and sloppy (why didn't he look up the numbers for previous elections?) Now I haven't looked up the numbers either due to (1) time constraints, and to a lesser extent (2) laziness, so take my response with a grain of salt as well. It just doesn't look to me like this is correct; the jury is still out. I won't be shocked if it turns out there were problems, but so far I haven't seen anything to convince me that it happened. Or so far, even that there is enough data to warrant any sort of inquiry. Unfortunately, even if something does come up, we probably won't get to it because we cried wolf.

And, by the way, let's note what we're talking about here. (Justin didn't say anything about how this could have affected the outcome of the election, but I know others have, so I thought I would address it.) Some have suggested this cost Kerry the election. Well, assuming there was massive fraud in both Florida and Ohia, it could be possible. Like I said, no good evidence yet. But, even if it did, it would be the same joke as last time. Kerry would win the election while being down by several million votes. I love when Presidents get elected while losing the popular vote... We should have fixed the blasted electoral college, and then this would have nothing to do with the presidency, but rather the real issues: the security of electronic voting, possible corruption by local and state officials and corporations, and criminal voter fraud by partisan lone wolfs or operatives. All of those routes of inquiry should be pursued rigorously if any kind of data comes out suggesting fraud. And if anything shows Kerry should have been President, fine. Don't expect me to be happy about democracy getting again trampled on because of a bad feature of the Constitution that no one will fix.

10:04:41 - Politics - ben - No comments

Suspicions are growing: Vote Fraud?

by Earendil

As data is made available about county voting patterns, people have scrutinized them to find some disturbing trends. Read on...

Evidence Mounts That The Vote May Have Been Hacked

Electronic Voting Angst

04:49:00 - Politics - Earendil - No comments

November 08, 2004

Violence Goes Both Ways

by ben

Everyone is rightfully up in arms over the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands. But, in the midst of all the righteous indignation, will the anti-terror hawks mention the reponses that the crime has received? Attempted mosque burnings, school bombings, leaving a pig's head outside of a mosque... No one has been injured or killed, but certainly with something the scale of a bomb, someone could have. (And the school itself was apparently closely monitored for shome shady connections it had; this does not absolve the method or the vigilatism involved.)

I don't feel the need to comment on Van Gogh's killing. It speaks for itself. But see if everyone becomes afraid of the backlash the way they are of the "Islamofascists" as so many are fond of calling... well whomever they are calling that. See if the conservative hawkish rhetoric is even-handed or not. But why should they report on these actions when we are not at war with some radical, violent Dutch right-wingers? That is fair, unless we consider the risk that we may contribute to propagating that kind of violence here. I don't think we want that - at least we shouldn't want that. But I think the "feeding frenzy" conservatives have been in over the killing of Van Gogh is the kind of thing that does contribute to this kind of violent thinking by some of the more anti-social elements of our society. The Klan is not such a long memory here, we don't need a redux. These may have been lone individuals, but note also there are more organized responses against Muslims and Arabs there too.

Watch the rhetoric, see if it matches with reality. Which element at this moment is in danger of causing more harm to our society? My answer: They both are, and don't you forget it.

[Update: Just to clarify, the point of all of this is that there is a culture of violence which exists, and can be promoted. That is what I, and other war-skeptics/near-pacifists/pacifists/whatever we are, are really after. Many of the people involved in perpetuating the rhetoric are good people, but I think they are still on dangerous ground. Most conceptions of pacifism agree on one thing: He who commits violence is himself harmed.]

12:43:26 - Politics - ben - No comments

November 07, 2004

Bush and Gay Marriage

by ben

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers constructs an argument that Bush was not helped by the gay marriage issue, based on the fact that Bush's gains since 2000 in states that had ant-gay marriage amendements/laws on the ballot were lower than the national gain. I am very curious about all of this. I would really like to know what issues got people worked up in this election. I don't want to e manipulative in addressing the voting population in the next election, but this might help us to understand what concerns of theirs to address - and by address I mean, explain, not cater to, though, of course, we do need to meet the needs of the people. It's a fine line, but ultimately any politician, any party, is going to have to explain how they can solve the nation's problems better than the other candidates or parties. And that means understanding what concerns they have. Time for a detailed national poll, I think (there probably already is one, I just need to find it...).

20:49:35 - Politics - ben - No comments

November 05, 2004

Means vs. Ends, Idealism vs. Pragmatism, Moral Decisions vs. the System

by ben

(This may be a little hard to follow, especially since I use the word "morality" in a way many people may not have thought of it before, so bear with me. I chose morality because it encompasses something both liberal and conservative views can have a concept of, if not with equal strength.)

Government is crucial to the preservation of "morality," by which at the most basic level I mean the right of protection of person, property, and some level of freedom of thought, speech, and movement. (Rights and morality are all part of the same entity, just different views of it. Ultimately it is all a question of ethics.) The government must, to an extent, enforce morality; a minimum, agreeable-to-nearly-all morality, but a morality nonetheless. And sometimes it must legislate morality, such as in the case of theft (in some socities there is no such thing, I have been told, and at any rate it is imaginable, but that would clearly not work in our society; thus the government makes a decision about the morality of theft and creates penalties).

[Remainder of article]
16:12:31 - Politics - ben - 1 comment

November 04, 2004

The Nation's Counties By Voting Habits

by ben

I linked to some maps in my last post, but the best one I have found so far is Robert Vanderbei's which shows the vote county by county, but is shaded to show the balance of the vote in each county. It's a very good map, and interesting.

22:51:35 - Politics - ben - No comments

Post-Game Analysis Needed

by ben

In the midst of my efforts to labor with the theology of politics and the politics of morality, I am also interested in testing my hypotheses about why this election went a certain way, and how to use that fact in future elections to determine how to best address the nation's concerns. We can have a better candidate, but if we can't show how they will help the country, we will have a hard time winning. So, what needs explaining? is the question. To find the answer to that we would do well to look at this election.

[Remainder of article]
17:42:42 - Politics - ben - No comments

November 03, 2004

We Forget...

by ben

I would have preferred to see John Kerry win. Barely, but hey. But, even though the final results aren't in (even though they probably are), it would be tough for me to still hope that somehow in all those states it turns out to be a close win for Kerry, which would put him in the White House. Four years ago many of us were complaining about an electoral system that could allow a person to win the presidency even though he had not achieved half the popular vote. Some of those complaining were reform types like me who just hate the electoral system (after all I, um, voted for Bush - a mistake I did not repeat); others were a little less objective. Let's see where they are now when Kerry has basically certainly lost the popular vote. Will they argue it still made more sense for Bush to be president? Um, haven't seen it yet. I do grant that they have not been extremely strident about it - at least that I have heard.

(Of course, in all fairness, I suppose one could wish - without too much hypocrisy - for one anti-democratic quirk to "fix" another, but let's at least hear someone fess up to that wish.)

09:28:25 - Politics - ben - No comments

Not Wrong Yet

by ben

Well, I predicted a bigger mess than last time. This morning at 1:00 am, I thought I had been wrong. Looks like I still have a chance. Somehow, in a sick sort of way, I am happy to see it up in the air. Beats me why. Must be my love of chaos. I do hope this all gets sorted out soon though; we really don't need a repeat of 2000....

08:25:31 - Politics - ben - 1 comment

November 02, 2004

Why Libertarians Are Wrong on Environmental Legislation

by ben

If a company pollutes significantly, and so affects my health, that is just as great an injustice as the government taking some of my taxes - in fact, much worse. Corporations should no more be able to impugn my right to life than other citizens, or than the governmnet my right to liberty and property.

Of course, one can argue that the libertarian ideal is based on an over-simplified view of individual liberties (I would like to suggest, for example, that the current generation should not be able to destroy things of great value at the expense of future generations without some overwhelming reason - but there is no model for this in the libertarian view), but I think even within their argument, their reasoning is not consistent, as I just explained.

07:55:54 - Politics - ben - No comments

Are Environmental Issues Really So Far From Abortion?

by ben

I don't know the details of the studies; maybe if I have time, I spend longer looking them up. But, it is accepted fact that high mercury levels in the environment contribute to birth defects. Hello! Who do birth defects affect? Those unborn children we are all so keen to supposedly save. Birth defects - from various sources, of course, not just mercury - were the leading cause of death in children less than one year old in 1999. Abortion and environmental regulation are not separate issues. The mistake is two-fold: (1) self-rightousness in supporting a candidate who can call themselves "pro-life" but does not wholly wish to protect unborn and young children and then categorically condemning those who would prefer a more holistic approach and (2) giving those candidates a free pass once they are elected. Wake up and smell the pollution. Even if enviro-anarchists are your choice at the polls in 2004, we can still through other means try to protect the citizens of all ages in this country.

(You can see I am feeling much better about being told I am immoral yesterday, even though I think I will now vote for "no-chance Ralph.")

07:50:15 - Politics - ben - No comments

November 01, 2004

What Constitution?

by ben

I just heard Sen. Bill Frist state on Larry King's show that the President would not need to have Congressional approval to invade Syria because of his status as commander in chief. What!? That's not what my Constitution says. It says, in Article 8, Section 8, that "The Congress shall have the power to ... declare war ... ."

Our nation has so lost touch with what the Constitution says about war, that now politicians are able to make these blatantly ridiculous remarks. I for one am appalled. But then, I am always appalled. When does it end?

21:44:07 - Politics - ben - No comments

Democracy: The Rule of the Majority, Minority, or the Coin Flip?

by ben

It occurs to me that in a 49% majority to a 49% minority suggests (as I am so fond of pointing out) political "choice" is practically non-existant with "random" fluctuations (as opposed to systematic tendencies) being enough to decide the election. I wanted to claim the impact of this was not catastrophic, but I could think of plenty of examples where even, say, a three way split of 49%, 30%, 20% would not imply some sort of superiority for the winner if the losing candidates were sufficiently similar; the gap between the winner and the losers would be largely in appearance not substance. This suggests to me again, something I already knew, that the American system for choosing a President is completely broken. Having more than 2.125 choices and runoff voting are suggestions I can think of, but they still don't fix the fundamental problem, which is a problem not only of the American system, but representative democracy in general - i.e. what really constitutes a majority, and how useful is a 51% majority, or worse a 49% "majority." It may be that 51% majority indicates it really doesn't matter which choice is made; but maybe it does. I don't know.

If it is something we can change by changing procedure, we should.Otherwise we are flipping a coin every four years, and what is the point of having an election to do that? I am open to any serious suggestions as to how to improve the situation, but something "should" be done, if it can, I would suggest. Maybe it is also time to have some serious discussions regarding representative democracy.

(I could point out that in pure democracy this issue changes slightly. On the one hand, voters aren't choosing 4 years of policy with a coin flip. On the other hand, they may be choosing issues every bit as important, just on an individual basis. So... Strict democracy is not a guaranteed solution.)

20:37:03 - Politics - ben - No comments