Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Sunday, November 09, 2008

  A fallacy about the election turnout

Votes continue to be counted and thus states have not released figures for the turnout for this election. Yet we see analyses like this one at Politico asserting confidently that turnout was no higher than in 2004. The point is to call into question the success of the Obama campaign's strategy to increase voter participation.

The Democratic increase struck some analysts as modest, considering the party’s immense get-out-the-vote operation, strong anti-Bush sentiment and Obama's popularity.

The argument is based on a painfully obvious fallacy, however.

It happens that I've been working for several days on research for a post about an election irregularity I uncovered in Pennsylvania. So I was able to spot the fallacy immediately in the Politico article, when the author David Paul Kuhn tried to produce some evidence to support his argument that turnout failed to increase this year:

In Pennsylvania, 5,851,730 voters cast ballots with 99.8 percent of votes counted — a rise of nearly 690,000 voters over 2004, according its secretary of state. But due to higher registration, the percent of eligible voters who cast ballots dropped from 68.96 in 2004 to 66.8 this year.

The first statement is false. The figure 5,851,730 is the number of votes that have been tallied for president in PA. Even without looking at PA results precinct by precinct, as I've done, Kuhn ought to have known that a significant number of voters did not cast a vote for president. That's especially going to be true in a year when so many Republicans were dissatisfied with their party's nominee.

We'll just have to wait for the official numbers for turnout. In the heavily Republican rural towns in my region of PA, the presidential vote generally was as high or slightly higher than in 2004. These are areas where, I believe, few new voters were added to the rolls. Thus the turnout increased or at least held steady in this demoralized Republican area.

In any case, we also need to consider the impact of lost votes – especially those not tallied correctly by electronic voting systems (I'll have more to say on this later), as well as the voters who were repulsed by long lines on Election Day.

At the polling place where I was working, the line became ridiculously backed up for much of the day. A Republican party "striker" showed up and, whether deliberately or through some combination of stupidity and incompetence, created a bottleneck that slowed the voting nearly to a halt. I recognized the problem immediately and called in for help. Obama campaign workers and lawyers came out repeatedly to help put a stop to this snarl-up, but even so we could barely contain the damage that this one Republican operative was doing. Thus as the day dragged on, scores of potential voters just walked away without casting their vote. In the space of just 20 minutes in late afternoon, I counted a dozen voters who left the line or turned away when they realized they'd have to wait for hours.

Poor planning, unnecessary delays, and lousy technology – which we continue to suffer from - all contribute in some degree to holding down the turnout. It's not reasonable to assume, on the basis of limited evidence, that the Obama campaign failed to get its voters to turn out on Election Day.

crossposted at

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