Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dec 12: FORGIT Could Still WIN-- VA State Board of Elections Needs Accuracy NOW; an IPHONE Proves It!

"It's 'un-official', but clear folks", a TV reporter says, "it's 9:02pm.... the polls closed at 7pm, the votes have all been tallied and now reported on our government web site. The State Board of Elections says that candidate "Jones" won the election over "Smith" with 24 out of 24 precincts reporting (100%)."

"We just have to verify a handful of provisional votes where someone wrote sloppy to tweak the final count to make it official.", a registrar's office official says.

Newspapers, TV, Blogs and campaigns can all celebrate or cry now. We have posted these numbers. "You can trust us" implies our government officials who oversee election results.

"We had a margin of victory of 55% to 45% so there is no chance of a recount", says J. Jones, candidate for dog catcher.

"We ran a great race, but I congratulate my opponent in his victory", concedes S. Smith.

The anchorman reports, "23,250 people voted with a turnout of 21% of registered voters says the State Board of Elections...."

We've all been through this before... THESE are the types of facts and figures EVERYONE relies on in a registrar and board of elections in any town. We cling to the computers for SBE updates like this, and cell phones ring for hours frpm every precinct captain and every registrar's office watcher to verify that the numbers are accurate, not transposed and that someone we know and trust saw the count with their own eyes.

This is how ballot box stuffing, shredding votes, dead people rising from the grave to cast a ballot, and computer fraud are kept to a minimum; via reasonable efforts to ensure democracy prevails, right? We'd like to think so anyway.

I may be not be the first to complain about this, but let me share an example of last night's election results that have me very concerned with whether we can trust the SBE to accurately report our campaign results:

At about 8:45pm Dec 11 (election night) in the Wittman-Forgit-Narrain Congressional race for the 1st District, I watched the SBE's website for precinct-by-precinct reports; along with everyone else with a Wi-Fi laptop in every campaign HQ and committee party gathering across the district.

"Wow- our guy is up by 20%+ margin- there's no way he can lose with 17 out of 20 precincts reporting and only a couple thousand votes left to tally...", we said. We were at about 42,000 votes for Wittman at that time. With a vote of 65% to 32% ratio, it was more than a 2:1 ratio of victory!

We accepted that. In fact, we screamed it out loud!

Then the numbers all updated at about 9:10pm, as usual. No biggie. The ratio dropped to 64-33 or so. Still fine. We accept that with a few more precincts being accounted for, that these numbers will continue to fluctuate. That's what makes it exciting and tense, especially when it's close. This race's winner was not in question at any time, so the final "true" numbers are only needed for the next day's headlines and posterity.

But what about ACCURACY?

How do you know these numbers are right? Who enters them? Where?

WHY do precincts results, when reported and verified by several people in all camps and volunteers and with the votes only being a few dozen to begin with, suddenly CHANGE by a dozen?

At 9:44pm 210 out of 210 precincts have now reported for 100% accounting. GREAT! The results are now just about official right? They've all been counted and re-counted by locals and campaign watchers, and now our state has declared them all-but-final by posting them, knowing that there's always a vote here or there that may need to be tweaked, and that sometimes provisional votes get challenged for being unclear who they were actually intended for.

So we accept that +/- a few stray votes that these numbers will be forever etched in stone in the morning when everything gets triple-checked and the word "un-official" becomes "final".

Wittman got 42, 325 votes as of 9:44pm with 210/210 precincts reporting, 100% of the vote counted, and that made 61.06% of the total vote. We had an abysmal 15.89% turnout and 69,315 total votes were cast in this election.

I double check these numbers with a calculator myself, and even went to a few county-by county vote totals and added them up to ensure the program's math appeared correct. It did, so I accept this as fact and post a chart online for your review.

Not quite the 2:1 margin we had, but that's why it's so important not to celebrate too early in any election until the votes are all-in. We know this. But wait there's more...

The next morning, I logged on to verify that the results were accurate still so that my chart would forever reflect this glorious triumpf for democracy. They hadn't changed at 8:00am Dec 12, so it seemed pretty certain that these would become "official/final" results.

Naturally, the newspaper reported these same results since they get their data from the same place I do– the SBE website– the ONLY official place that everyone can go in a fair and impartial way to confirm how many votes were cast and who won. So we accept this to be fact now because the newspaper said it, the SBE said it, and the campaigns have all said it.

Nationally, the GOP announces the landslide victory and we all accept it as fact: "Wittman will go to Congress."

So I'm talking to a friend at lunch on Dec 12, about the blow-out and he says that I have my percentage of victory numbers all wrong. He pulls out his IPhone and logs on to the SBE website and shows me the results he just checked himself, and that they were nowhere near what I was remembering from last night and this morning. I thought it was a clever trick.

I soon realized that maybe I hadn't cleared out my browser's cookies on my PC or done some other Windows-required regiment of keyclicks and plug-ins to make the screen update last night and this morning. I always hit the "refresh" icon on the browser when I look at these things to ensure they've updated. How could I have made such a blunder, I wondered.

I didn't. The SBE updated their website at 11:01am Dec 12. One might assume at this time in the story that it was to tweak those provisional votes dangling in the balance, but no. They updated all the numbers this time... but I didn't have them all memorized, and the percentages barely moved, so I knew things were 'different', but not significantly.

Wittman wins by 59.6% now, not 61.06% as reported last night, and no longer a 2:1 margin as was his lead with nearly every precinct allegedly reporting. So I say, no big deal, it's only a half-point correction. Maybe someone imposed their numbers last night and the process caught it?

So I go back to the PC after lunch and plan to edit the numbers to report accurately and be a good steward of information for the party archives. The winner's outcome hadn't changed, so I thought, "no harm, no foul. Good for 'the system', checks and balances worked out this time."

Then I look at the total votes for Wittman. WOAH- they went from 42,325 last night and this morning to 51,310!!
That's no 'tweak'!

That's more than a "margin of error", and MANY more than we should condone as being misplaced, set aside, or provisional!

Forgit's vote count went from 25,621 to 32,973, and Narain's went from 1,295 to 1,709.

The voter turnout has to now be upgraded too from 'abysmal' (15.34% of registered) to 'pathetic' (19.02% of registered), but any improvement is a good one in this category!

Yes, fellow voters and Virginians, the SBE announced a total 100% reported, 210/210 precinct voter turnout of 69,315 at 9:44pm Dec 11, and it wasn't changed until 11:01am Dec 12 when they 'adjusted' it to 86, 079 votes!

Can anyone explain why our official voting board's reports, for a single-race election day with only 3 candidates to account for–where most precincts used computerized touch-screens to tally the votes– are 16,764 VOTES OFF?

If this were a Ron Paul straw poll, the press would be eating this alive! We should be outraged that such an error could occur in ANY race, ANYWHERE.

I called the SBE today and was told that this is why no one should announce anything until the word 'OFFICIAL' is on the page. When I said, "but that doesn't explain where 16,000+ votes come from 14 hours later when 100% of the precincts were tallied..."

The answer? "I don't know what to tell you, Sir, the votes aren't official yet."

I guess someone should tell the Forgit camp that he still has a fighting chance of winning this race, after all, he's only trailing by 18,337 votes the day after the election with 100% reporting now.

What gives in government "service" these days? Will it ever get back to just being "slow, bureaucratic and uncaring" like the old days when I was a kid? Must it be "grossly innacurate and dangerously wrong" also?


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