David Kirkpatrick

January 6, 2009

Nate Silver fisks the WSJ editorial board

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:54 am

And does an epic takedown.

FiveThirtyEight is becoming a post-election must read for political junkies. It absolutely was during the election for the incredibly prescient projections on the elections this year.

Now that the election is done they’re cleaning up the loose ends — such as the Coleman/Franken recount in Minnesota, and as it happens the subject of the fisked op-ed –and branching out into politics beyond polling, statistics and elections.

Naturally, this sort of analysis betrays the pretty strong lean to the left, but whatever your personal leanings, not reading this for ideological reasons is silly. These guys are just doing great work right now.

From the first link:

Mr. Franken started the recount 215 votes behind Senator Coleman, but he now claims a 225-vote lead and suddenly the man who was insisting on “counting every vote” wants to shut the process down. He’s getting help from Mr. Ritchie and his four fellow Canvassing Board members, who have delivered inconsistent rulings and are ignoring glaring problems with the tallies.

Actually, Coleman is having far more trouble with the Minnesota Supreme Court, which generally has a conservative reputation, than he is with the Canvassing Board. They’re the ones who rejected his petition on duplicate ballots, and they’re the ones who rejected his notion of wanting to tack on additional ballots to the absentee ballot counting.

Under Minnesota law, election officials are required to make a duplicate ballot if the original is damaged during Election Night counting. Officials are supposed to mark these as “duplicate” and segregate the original ballots. But it appears some officials may have failed to mark ballots as duplicates, which are now being counted in addition to the originals. This helps explain why more than 25 precincts now have more ballots than voters who signed in to vote. By some estimates this double counting has yielded Mr. Franken an additional 80 to 100 votes.

There are 25 precincts with more ballots than voters? I’m not sure this is actually true. There were certain precincts with more votes counted during the recount than there were on Election Night — which is not surprising, considering that the whole purpose of a hand recount is to find votes that the machine scanners missed the first time around. I have not seen any evidence, on the other hand, that there are precincts with more votes than voters as recorded on sign-in sheets. And the Coleman campaign evidently hasn’t either, or it presumably would have presented it to the Court, which rejected its petition for lack of evidence.

Also, note the weasel-wordy phrase “by some estimates”, which translates as “by the Coleman campaign’s estimate”. There is no intrinsic reason why Franken ballots are more likely to be duplicated than Coleman ballots, especially when one significant source of duplicate ballots is military absentees, a group that presumably favors the Republicans. Coleman, indeed, only became interested in the issue of duplicates once he fell behind in the recount and needed some way to extend his clock. Before then, his lead attorney had sent an e-mail to Franken which said that challenges on the issue of duplicate ballots were “groundless and frivolous”.

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