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Topic: New project: certification in statistics
Replies: 17   Last Post: Nov 20, 2000 3:14 PM

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Herman Rubin

Posts: 6,721
Registered: 12/4/04
Re: manual recount - of punched ballots
Posted: Nov 15, 2000 12:37 PM
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In article <3A112793.1B1E12E1@lboro.ac.uk>,
Thom Baguley <t.s.baguley@lboro.ac.uk> wrote:
>Ron Hardin wrote:

>> Rich Ulrich wrote:

..................

>I'm not a US citizen, and not privy to your arcane electoral practices, but
>as I understand it, the counting procedures vary from county to county and
>state to state. All counties which use the punch hole system ought to be
>recounted manually as the level of error (5%) is very high and non-random
>(because not all counties used it).


>AFAIK this is unheard of in General Election in Western Europe - even in
>federal countries like Germany the same design of ballots and counting
>procedures are used in diferent states.


It is not clear where the "complications" in the American
system originated, but what you call "federal" countries
in Europe would not be considered federal in the US, but
central. The United STATES was formed as a confederation
of sovereign states.

From Colonial times, people voted for their representatives
in the colonial legislatures, and also for county officials.
In those days, the governors of the colonies were appointed
by the British, so those would have to be added, and the
Federal legislators and candidates for President were added
to this. The upper houses in the US are elected as well.

So in this past election, I voted for 1 federal executive
position, 2 different federal legislative positions, 4 state
executive positions, 2 state legislative positions, plus
judges and county executive and legislative positions, and
one amendment to the state constitution.

>> is? Otherwise it would seem a net Democratic gain is guaranteed.
>> The county that hand counts wins an even election.


>> The benefit of the machine counts is the avoidance of bias. The
>> sign of the difference at the end of it all is an excellent estimate,
>> not biased, though the totals are biased low by machine counting.


>That's simply false.

>Bias in a statistical sense can be introduced to a procedure by machines or
>voting systems. (Bias in this sense carries no necessary implication of
>human intent to cause said bias). As we are in a statistical newsgroup I'm
>assuming the statistical sense was intended by most posters. Bias can be
>introduced quite easily e.g. if the machines that produce errors are no
>distributed across counties in a way that balances out errors between
>candidates. It can also be introduced if human factors (e.g., say age) are
>more likely to produce an error with that machine type AND those human
>factors (e.g., age) are correlated with voter intention. You can come up
>with other examples quite easily.


>> A hand count improves the totals but ruins the differences. But what
>> you want is the differences, ie the winner, not the totals.


>Possibly. But how can you calculate the correct differences without
>calculating the true totals in each county?


What are the true totals? More than 90% of the ballots are
correct, but the question is about errors, Machines cannot make
certain types of errors, but can improperly reject ballots.
Hand counting of ballots can introduce major biases, in the
common meaning of the term.

>You might want to read up on the ecological fallacy and Simpson's paradox.
>Because the individual counties are not homogeneous and because error is
>not distributed in a balanced way (or even randomly) there is no way to
>calculate the true difference without getting the best possible counts in
>each county.



>> I have heard that punch cards are favored because they retain
>> vote privacy, and they consider the 5% drop rate acceptable.


>In the UK (apart from the recent elections for London Mayor - which weren't
>punch card ballots) we use hand counts and get error rates far, far lower
>than this (usually far less than 0.5%). Voter privacy is maintained by
>voting behind a curtain and folding the ballot paper in half before putting
>it in the ballot box. The paper has a ballot number which can be matched to
>counterfoils with the electoral number, but only by use of a High Court
>order. I fail to see how the punch card improves on this (IMO it is worse
>because you simply can not fold it - or it won't go through the machine).


The punched card is put in an envelope, with only the stub
showing; this aspect of the secrecy is not the major problem.
I doubt that many Americans would trust the politicians to
keep secret how people voted if there was any way of
connecting the voter to the ballot.

This is ONE of the methods used in the US, and is the method used
in absentee voting (where the voter does not vote at the precinct
ballot box on election day). Honest counting here is quite good,
but fraud (stuffing the ballot box) has been a problem all long.
However, hand counting of a ballot with candidates for 20 or more
positions is slow going. A moderate sized precinct, with 500
voting, gives 10,000 votes to be recorded. Mechanical counters
used as voting machines started in the last century, and were
widely used; in these cases, recounts were limited to checking
the numbers, and checking these against the total number of
voters in the precinct. I have used punched card ballots, and
I consider them to be one of the worst means of doing things.


--
This address is for information only. I do not claim that these views
are those of the Statistics Department or of Purdue University.
Herman Rubin, Dept. of Statistics, Purdue Univ., West Lafayette IN47907-1399
hrubin@stat.purdue.edu Phone: (765)494-6054 FAX: (765)494-0558





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