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November 6, 2006

Volunteer exit pollsters to look for problems in the 8th

Posted by David Postman at 10:56 AM

A group of citizen pollsters will be talking to voters in the 8th District tomorrow as a check against fraud or foul-ups. The effort grows out of a national group, Election Integrity, that says the 2004 national presidential election was likely stolen by fraud and that independent exit polling is the best way to look for similar problems this year. Says the group:

Your votes and the systems by which they are counted are the private property of a handful of secretive, tightly interrelated, highly partisan firms.

Recent elections have produced a series of highly anomalous results.

Hannah McFarland, the lead pollster in the volunteer corps, said exit polls will be done in Renton and Kirkland. She issued a statement today saying:

There are numerous concerns among voters regarding manipulation of election results due to a wide range of reasons from electronic voting, lack of transparency, conflicts of interest and voter suppression. This and other citizens' exit polls around the country indicate that voters are taking matters into their own hands.

If vote tallies differ greatly from the exit polls the group will push for investigations.

The Vote Count Protection Project of Election Integrity urges people to do their own exit polling to avoid problems the group says were obvious in media polls done in 2004. Early exit polls showed John Kerry leading President George Bush.

Steven Freeman of Election Integrity co-authored a book, "Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count," and maintains that the early media numbers were correct. He researched the discrepancy between the poll results and the vote tally which he says were "far beyond the margin for error."

In an article last year Freeman said that a report from the firms explaining the discrepancies underplayed data that proves "support for the hypothesis that the election was stolen."

Here's the report the firms did after the election. Here's a response from Freeman and other academics.

Joe Lenski, co-founder and executive vice president of Edison Media Research, which does the media polling with Mitofsky International, talked about this year's exit polling in a recent interview with Andrew Kohot, president of the Pew Research Center:

What's your biggest challenge going to be in this particular mid-term election?

Well, there are a lot of interesting things here...one is the relatively small number of races that is going to determine control of both the House and the Senate. The Senate is basically down to 6 or 8 seats that will determine whether the Democrats get the 51 seats they need for control or whether the Republicans hold on with 50-plus with Dick Cheney as the deciding vote. So even national trends aren't going to be as important as state-by-state trends, particularly in those states that are going to decide the Senate.

Similarly in the House, you've seen in most of the national polls that the Democrats have a sizable lead in what's called the "generic House vote," but you can win the popular vote for the House and still not win 218 congressional districts, depending on how those votes are proportioned out among districts. As we learned in 2000, you can win the popular vote but not win the Electoral College.

So, I think that people — including those of us on the decision teams as well as lay people looking at the results — have to be careful to remember that just because an exit poll shows more people voting for Democratic House candidates than Republican House candidates, that doesn't mean that, when you look district by district, the Democrats get or don't get 218 seats. That's going to be one of the trickiest things on election night.

Lenski also talked about efforts this year to stop any early leaks about results.

Well, I'll tell you a brief description of what we will be doing with the networks and the Associated Press. We're going to put in place systems in which no one, even at the networks, can view any of this data before 5 p.m. on Election Day. This will be very similar to procedures used in England and Mexico and other places to strictly control the dissemination of data, and the number of people who get to look at it before 5 o'clock. We'll have one or two rooms in which people will, in essence, be in a bubble, quarantined. They'll have to give up their cell phones, their pagers, any Internet activity, anything of that sort and stay in that room until 5 o' clock in order to view the data so we know there is no possibility of communication with the outside world.

The media consortium will be doing exit polling in the Senate race here.

The citizen exit polling will be done following guidelines from Election Integrity.

King County elections spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said there are protections in place for polling place votes. There are electronic, touch-screen, voting terminals, but unlike in other states they have a "verifiable paper audit trail."

In the primary about 7,500 people voted with the machines and the county's post-election audit found a perfect match between the paper receipts and the vote count, she said. And in all polling places voters have the choice of using the machines or using a paper ballot.

In other election-counting news:

Some Washington counties now have a way for voters to track mail ballots, too. It comes from a local company, VoteHere. Mail-in Ballot Tracker is being phased in statewide and currently is in use in 15 counties, though not King.

And in the new Fortune magazine there is a story about Diebold, the controversial manufacturer of electronic voting machines.

But after a close look at Diebold and its operations, it's hard to see the company as evil. Naive? Yes. Ignorant? Sure. Stupid? Sometimes. "We didn't know a whole lot about the elections business when we went into it, "admits (CEO Thomas) Swidarski. "Here we are, a bunch of banking folks thinking making voting machines would be similar to making ATMs. We've learned some pretty painful lessons."

But what was most interesting is the closing paragraph that makes it clear the company may get out of the vote counting business.

As for Diebold, Swidarski is questioning whether the election business "fits into our product portfolio." He says he'll make a decision within the next three months. But it says something that the company recently ordered the name "Diebold" removed from the front of the voting equipment. Why? A spokesman would only say, "It was a strategic decision on the part of the corporation."

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