Misc Commentary For Nov 22, 2006

— The whole idea of having an Iraqi study group that features a bunch of Democrats, people who never bought into the war in Iraq to begin with (like James Baker), and people who have no business having anything to do with foreign policy (like Sandra Day O’Connor), come up with an Iraqi policy is faintly ridiculous. The President is the Commander-In-Chief and he should get together with his staff and the generals to decide how we handle Iraq, not try to outsource the issue to the clowns in the Iraqi Study group.

— The Christine Jennings / Vern Buchanan race down in Florida is still mired in controversy. Buchanan won by 369 votes and has been declared the winner, but Jennings is planning to ask for a new election in court based on the number of no-votes in the race:

“Democrat Christine Jennings contested her 369-vote loss in the 13th District, asking a judge to order a new election because of problems in Sarasota County, where more than 17,000 voters who cast ballots in other races Nov. 7 failed to vote in the congressional contest.

That rate is nearly six times higher than in the other counties in the congressional district or on Sarasota’s paper absentee ballots, Jennings alleges in her legal challenge. Though she lost in the other four counties in the district, Jennings did well in Sarasota County, winning there by a 6 percentage point margin.

Jennings’ lawyer, Kendall Coffey, said the “statistical evidence is based on numbers that cannot be seriously questioned.” He said there were also eyewitness accounts of voting problems.

Buchanan, a wealthy auto dealer, said there was no evidence of machine malfunctions. He attributed the huge Sarasota undervote to angry voters turned off by negative campaigning.

“I guess the theory is if you don’t win, sue,” Buchanan said, urging Jennings to concede and “stop listening to the high-price lawyers and out-of-town special interest groups.”

On the one hand, I do think that the number of people not voting seems unusually high. On the other hand, they’re using iVotronic machines and having voted on one of those machines myself, it’s very hard for me to imagine it missing 17,000 votes (13% of the voters).

That’s because when you vote on an iVotronic machine, not only does it show electronically, it immediately prints your choice out and prominently displays it. So, if you chose Vern Buchanan or Christine Jennings and the machine posted “No vote,” it would be extremely noticable. In fact, I would think that there would have almost certainly been thousands and thousands of complaints if that really happened 17,000 times. Put another way, you know how Democrats always say that what they want is an electronic machine that has a written record that people can check by hand? Well, that’s exactly what this is and the written record is even printed in real time so people can look at it as they vote. Since that’s the case, my gut instinct is that this is just an unusual occurrence and that the machine probably got it right.

So what caused so many no votes? My best guess would be ballot placement:

“But there were subtle differences in design of the ballot from one county to the next. And as the votes were counted, those differences showed up in unexpectedly large undervotes in the U.S. House and attorney general’s races, according to ballot design experts.

Sarasota recorded a massive undervote in the House District 13 race and a typical undervote in the attorney general’s race. Charlotte County had a typical undervote in the District 13 race and massive undervote in the attorney general’s race.

Experts say the undervotes were likely caused by badly designed ballots that led people to accidentally skip over one race as they scrolled through their computer screens.

…While Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent believes some voters may have accidentally missed the District 13 race, she does not believe ballot design was the primary cause of the undervotes.

The voters “are instructed on the machine; they are instructed by the poll worker: ‘make sure you go through the whole ballot, check all the review screens.’

“There were thousands and thousands and thousands of people who did” vote in the race, Dent said, “and their votes were recorded. I just can not attribute it to any one thing.”

Selker and other experts said Sarasota compounded problem with poor use of colors.

The county placed a teal background behind the title of each section of races, such as “CONGRESSIONAL” for U.S. Senate and U.S. House and “STATE” for races such as governor and attorney general.

As a result, the first thing voters saw on screen two was “STATE” with a bright colored background below the District 13 race. There was no colored title for the District 13 race above.

When screen two loaded, the eye naturally traveled to “STATE” and then down the screen, leading many to overlook the unadorned District 13 race, Selker said.

That’s what happened to Cornell University Professor Geri Gay, an expert on human interaction with computers.

Tuesday morning, she opened an image file on her computer that showed how the Sarasota ballot appeared on voting machines. She said she didn’t even see the House race until she was told to look at the top of the image.

“I thought it was just part of the header,” she said. “There is needless confusion in Sarasota. The eye will go for color. That’s why you use color, to orient yourself.”

Should Jennings get a revote because of this? In my opinion, no, but we’ll see what happens when it goes to court.

— Here’s a short breakdown of how some of the different pollsters did in 2006:

In the Senate races, the average error on the margin of victory was tightly bunched for all the phone polls. Rasmussen (25 races) and Mason-Dixon (15) each were off by an average of fewer than four points on the margin. Zogby’s phone polls (10) and SurveyUSA (18) each missed by slightly more than four points. Just four of the 68 phone polls missed by 10 points or more, with the widest miss at 18 points.

…The picture was similar in the gubernatorial races (where Zogby polled only online, not by phone). Mason-Dixon’s average error was under 3.4 points in 14 races. Rasmussen missed by an average of 3.8 points in 30 races; SurveyUSA was off by 4.4 points, on average, in 18 races. But Zogby’s online poll missed by an average of 8.3 points, erring on six races by more than 15 points.

— From beginning to end, Hillary Clinton was never in the slightest danger of losing her Senate seat, yet she still managed to fritter away 30 million dollars in the process. If that kind of cataclysmic mismanagement of funds is going to be the norm for her campaign, you have to wonder if her spot on the top of the Democratic hill in 2008 is a lot shakier than it looks right now.

— Huzzah! The GOP finally did something right after the election,

“While House Republicans reacted to stinging rejection from America’s voters by refusing to change leadership, their Senate counterparts have tried to use their closing weeks in power to enact a last burst of pork-barrel spending. But that effort was stalled last week by independent-minded Republican senators, spearheaded by two abrasive freshmen and one longtime hairshirt. Before Congress recessed Friday for Thanksgiving, the GOP leadership appeared to capitulate.

The freshmen, Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint, campaigning in 2004 in Oklahoma and South Carolina, promised not to fall in line with GOP leaders. Fulfilling that pledge allied them with the long-termer John McCain. They have been backed by Jeff Sessions of Alabama and another freshman, John Sununu of New Hampshire. In the lame-duck session’s first week, they played Horatio at the Bridge by combining to block a pork-filled omnibus spending bill.”

If the GOP in the Senate would just follow the lead of Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, they’d seldom go wrong…

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