Nel's New Day

November 3, 2012

Voter Problems, Prediction

In Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted is still creating new ways to keep people from voting. Yesterday he issued a directive to reject provisional ballots when ID information on a particular part of the ballot form is incomplete, contrary to a court decision on provisional ballots a week ago. The case now goes back to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, making it more likely that Ohio results won’t be in until after November 17.

Husted’s directive is contrary to state law which requires the poll worker to complete the provisional ballot:

Ohio Rev. Code § 3505.181(B)(6) provides that, once a voter casting a provisional ballot proffers identification, “the appropriate local election official shall record the type of identification provided, the social security number information, the fact that the affirmation was executed, or the fact that the individual declined to execute such an affirmation and include that information with the transmission of the ballot . . . .”

Another Husted tactic is secretly installing unauthorized “experimental” software in 39 counties’ tabulators, again contrary to state law. The Ohio-based Free Press editor-in-chief Robert Fitrakis planned to file a lawsuit seeking an immediate injunction against this installation and has referred the case to the Cincinnati FBI for criminal investigation.

In Florida, a bomb scare in Orange County, which went for Obama 59% to 40% in 2008, stopped early voting for hours on the last day of voting until Tuesday, thanks to Gov. Rick Scott’s directive.

In largely Democratic King County (WA), GOP party members are going door-to-door trying to pick up ballots, saying that they will drop them off. The state has mandatory vote-by-mail. While there is no law against asking for ballots, the situation smells a bit fishy.

Even more fishier is the temporary election office worker in Clackamas County (OR) who was caught filling in votes for Republicans, primarily county commissioners, if voters had not voted for anyone.  The county clerk has filed complaints against all the county commissioners, and the attempt of the Tea Party to take over the county’s elected officials has created a great deal of bitterness in that area.

After wondering about the plight of people affected by Superstorm Sandy, many of us are asking how voters in the affected states will be able to vote. In this area roughly the size of Europe, officials are working hard to create access to voting, unlike those in Florida and Ohio.  From Philadelphia to New York City, officials relaxed deadlines for voting by absentee ballot allowing people to get applications until the end of business hours on Friday.

Early voting has continued this weekend in hard-hit states with New Jersey and Virginia extending hours. In hardest hit areas of New York City and Long Island, preparations are being made for alternative voting sites, including the provision of power, lights and ballot-counting scanners. New York’s electronic vote-counting scanners have back-up batteries, but  paper ballots can also be taken from field voting sites to more central locations to be counted.  New York has also inspected every polling place for water damage and power to determine if polling places can be moved or consolidated.

Tom Connelly, New York State Board of Elections Deputy Director of Public Information, said, “Generators could be used for lighting and for the machines inside the buildings and in parking lots.” If polling places are moved, Connelly said that every county the Board of Elections (BOE) has a communications plan to inform voters. He added that law permits jurisdictions to add a day of voting if turnout on Tuesday fell below 25 percent of their registered voters.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered county clerks to open their offices on Saturday and Sunday. He also said paper ballots would be made available on Election Day, allowing people to vote “old school” at polling stations that still do not have power. Lt. Gov. Kim Gaudagno said that the state will deputize an “authorized messenger” to go to “State-supported shelters” to help people vote there if they wish. It also suspended other technicalities that would allow the state to create temporary polls near previously designated locations.

Christie’s best idea is that registered voters in New Jersey can vote electronically by email or fax. After residents submit applications to the county clerk, ballots will be sent back and then returned to the state no later than 8:00 pm on Election Day. This option is already open to New Jersey voters overseas and in the military.

Election officials in Philadelphia said that power has been mostly restored, and voting should not be impacted by Tuesday. Maryland and Connecticut extended early voting deadlines.

Now the only question is who will win. The Denver Post has a fascinating article showing nine methods of prediction—all with maps and all showing that President Obama will gain the necessary electoral votes for four more years.

The New York Times is even more enterprising in its interactive approach. Their “512 Paths to the White House” shows that the president has 436 ways to win with Mitt Romney getting the other 76. The article shows five possible ties. The process gives the selection of nine swing states (Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire) and allows the reader to make assumptions about winning and losing different states. For example, assuming that President Obama wins Nevada and Romney takes North Carolina gives the president 103 ways to win, one chance for a tie, and 24 possibilities for Romney. If the president takes Florida, he has 255 possibilities of winning, one tie, and a loss only if Romney takes the other eight swing states. Etc., etc.

With the extensive analysis of how President Obama will get the electoral votes, the Republicans have declared war on the major predictor, Nate Silver.  They are outraged at Silver for “predicting” an Obama victory, and nonpartisan (but fiercely ideological) political press elites are ridiculing the theory that math can be used to determine the election’s result.

Four years ago, almost no one knew anything about Nate Silver. I didn’t until a good friend clued me in to his blog, named after the number of electoral votes. Four years ago, Silver accurately predicted the presidential wins in 49 out of the 50 states, missing Indiana by just a hair, and gradually became a household name, appearing on many talk shows, including Jon Stewart.

Silver’s approach toward predicting the election is to crunch the numbers from public polls, using assumptions from past elections about weighing and interpreting these figures. Joe Scarborough, Republican on that infamous “blue” MSNBC, declared on his television program, “Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they’re jokes.” Scarborough agrees that President Obama will win but doesn’t give a reason.

Last night on The Rachel Maddow Show, Silver said that of the nineteen polls on swing states during the last two weeks, Romney has lost all of them. According to Silver there’s no momentum toward the Romney side. He did add that the polls could have a bad year like 1980, but most of the time it’s wishful thinking for the losing side of the polls to say that they’re wrong.

The GOP has two reasons for declaring their victory three days before the election. People like to vote for winners; if they believe their candidate may lose, they are more likely to stay away from the polls on Election Day. The Romney campaign is afraid that projecting a possible loss for their candidate creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Also, research suggests that political conservatives are obsessive about believing their own theories, much more so than liberals. Throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, the right has visualized him not only as a failure and an incompetent but also as a dangerous—the Muslim with dictatorial, socialist tendencies who is probably not an U.S. citizen. They are so horrified that such a person could be accepted by over half the voters in the country that they refuse to even consider such a terrible idea.

The Republicans will be more riled today than yesterday. According to Silver, President Obama has gone up another percent in probability of getting elected to 83.7 percent.

Some Republicans, however, may be a bit more realistic. They’re trying to guess what job Paul Ryan will have starting January if he loses his House seat or decides that it’s a bit too hot for him.

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