Vote Fraud Theorists Battle Over Plausibility

By Terry M. Neal Staff Writer
Sunday, April 24, 2005; 11:27 PM

After my recent column on President Bush's popularity woes, a torrent of e-mail flooded in from angry Democrats insisting that Bush's relative lack of popularity only reinforced their belief that the 2004 election was stolen.

Regular readers are well aware that I'm not a conspiracy theorist. My natural journalistic skepticism applies not just to politicians and people in power, but to wild-eyed theories as well. The Talking Points column that followed the polling piece debunked the idea that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was the victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy.

Similarly, it strains credulity to think that there was some sort of massive, coordinated effort to steal an election. Such a conspiracy would have had to cross state lines, involve hundreds or thousands of people and trickle down from the heights of power to the lowest precinct worker.

Yet there's lots of chatter in the blogosphere, but little coverage in the mainstream media, of a study that suggests the early exit polls that showed Kerry beating Bush may have been accurate after all. The study, conducted on behalf of U.S. Count Votes, a non-partisan but left-leaning non-profit organization.

The statisticians who performed the analysis for U.S. Count Votes, led by the University of Pennsylvania's Steven F. Freeman and Temple University's Josh Mittledorf, have not been eager to use the word conspiracy. After all, they're scientists. Their job is dispassionate, quantitative analysis. But in some ways they seem to be playing a game, too, because the study clearly leaves the impression that the authors believe there was wholesale fraud in the 2004 presidential election.

The methodology and math of the study are far too complicated to get into in detail here. But here is a link to the entire study for your reading pleasure.

Among other things, the study reports that some of the largest discrepancies between exit polls and final vote tallies occurred inexplicably in battleground states.

"This discrepancy between exit polls and the official election results has triggered a controversy which has yet to be resolved," according the report.

Last year's exit poll was conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press, and many reports, including one from Edison and Mitofsky, have found flaws in the poll.

The U.S. Count Votes analysis noted that Edison-Mitofsky's "national poll results projected a Kerry victory by 3.0 percent, whereas the official count had Bush winning by 2.5 percent. Several methods have been used to estimate the probability that the national exit poll results would be as different as they were from the national popular vote by random chance. These estimates range from 1 in 16.5 million to 1 in 1,240. No matter how one calculates it, the discrepancy cannot be attributed to chance."

Even Edison and Mitofsky have acknowledged that the problem between exit polls and the vote count could not be explained simply by statistical error. One of their primary explanations: Kerry voters were more likely than Bush voters to participate in the exit poll.

But the U.S. Vote Counts analysis refutes that point and suggests that Bush voters actually participated at a higher rate than Kerry voters.

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