abstract musings

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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Was It Painful to Report?

Over the weekend, I read in the dead tree edition of the Miami Herald, the story about the Herald's recount of three counties in the Florida panhandle. This story most likely was motivated by internet rumors from the tinfoil hat brigade that Bush stole the election from Kerry in Florida, by rigging the electronic voting machines in counties in Northern Florida where the voters are predominately registered Democratic, but which voted overwhelmingly for Bush on election day. In reality, these counties in the panhandle routinely break for the Republican candidate for President despite the high number of registered Democrats. In all three counties, the Herald's recount affirmed the official election results with minor discrepancies.

Last week, The Herald went to see for itself whether Bush's steamroll through North Florida was legitimate. Picking three counties that fit the conspiracy theory profile -- staunchly Democratic by registration, whoppingly GOP by voting -- two reporters counted more than 17,000 ballots over three days.

The conclusion: No conspiracy.

The newspaper's count of optical scan ballots in Suwannee, Lafayette and Union counties showed Bush whipping Sen. John Kerry in a swath of Florida where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1.

The newspaper found minor differences with the official results in each county, most involving a smattering of ballots that had been discarded as unreadable by optical scan machines but in which reporters felt the voter intent was clear.

In Union County:

The Herald total: 3,393 votes for Bush and 1,272 for Kerry. There were 15 votes that couldn't clearly be counted.

The official Union County total: 3,396 votes for Bush, 1,251 for Kerry and a few dozen that couldn't be counted.

"The difference is in the under-over votes," [Election Supervisor Babs] Montpetit explained. The Herald concluded voter intent in a couple of dozen cases that scan readers could not discern.

In Suwannee County:

The Herald counted almost 60 percent of the votes in Suwannee County, where nearly 64 percent of the voters are registered Democrats.

The newspaper's total from those precincts: 6,140 votes for Bush and 2,984 for Kerry, which nearly matched the county's official tally.

In Lafayette County:

The reporters' total: 2,452 votes for Bush and 848 for Kerry, with 20 that couldn't be clearly counted.

The official Lafayette County total: 2,460 votes for Bush, 845 for Kerry and others that couldn't be counted.

Captain Ed links to a CNN report about the Herald story.