They [Gore Camp] claim that the folks who voted for Buchanan were, in fact, voting for Algore but made a mistake.
November 8, 2000 6:41 AM   Subscribe

A ballot is a ballot. The way a secret ballot system works prevents anyone from seeing who you voted for, and that's a good thing. You can't just go back in and change it after the fact -- the possibilities for fraud are stupendous.
posted by snarkout at 6:55 AM on November 8, 2000

I saw a picture of the ballot in question and there is a big bold black arrow pointing gore to the correct bubble. Unless you were very very careless, it's hard to see how anyone could make a mistake like that. Come on, it's a presidential election, at least double check your ballot!
posted by gyc at 7:18 AM on November 8, 2000

Just shows how desperate the Dems are. When bush was declared winner 2-3am he was around 70000 votes ahead in FL. And suddenly Gore has this surge with all these boxes missing? Smells RAT to me.
posted by tiaka at 7:26 AM on November 8, 2000

To be honest, I myself was uncertain whether I had voted for the correct candidate at the box. There certainly wasn't an arrow to guide me - nor a line between the candidates, which would have helped somewhat. I consider myself somewhat intelligent and able to read instructions, but was still nervous about whether or not I was getting the correct boxes filled in. So I think it's a somewhat valid concern, but farfetched in terms of its weight on the national election.
posted by annathea at 7:38 AM on November 8, 2000

but farfetched in terms of its weight on the national election.

Actually, it gives Gore an edge of 1000 votes. So of the 2300 overseas absentee ballots, 1650 need to be Bush votes in order for Bush to win this election.

posted by johnb at 8:13 AM on November 8, 2000

i saw the picture of that ballot as well -- in addition to pointing to the correct bubble, that big black arrow points to the name of pat buchanan, while pat buchanan's big black arrow points to al gore.

posted by sudama at 8:19 AM on November 8, 2000

So of the 2300 overseas absentee ballots, 1650 need to be Bush votes in order for Bush to win this election.

Which is entirely possible. The overseas vote in question is mostly military forces, which have been pro-Republican in the past. Dole won that group in 96.

As for the Buchanan confusion, I understood that the county in question did things a little differently than other counties, so maybe there was no arrow, etc. We didn't have nice arrows in Missouri... the candidates were a little off-line with their holes, although it was close enough to figure it out, but I can see how this could be a problem.

In any case, the votes have been cast. There's no fair way to take them back. The confused people should have asked the election staff for clarification. But you can't assume the Buchanan votes should be Gore votes, you can't let anyone vote again unless it's the whole county, and I doubt that would happen. You can't discount the county either. There's no way to make everyone happy with the results, but the procedure/setup should be changed next time around.
posted by daveadams at 8:21 AM on November 8, 2000

And suddenly Gore has this surge with all these boxes missing? Smells RAT to me.

All of the uncounted votes were coming from heavily Democratic sections of South Florida -- precincts with a lot of African-American, Hispanic and Jewish voters. African-Americans voted 94 percent to 6 percent for Gore/Lieberman in Florida, so it wouldn't take many of their ballot boxes to catch Gore up.

No matter who is declared the winner in Florida, the other side is going to have good reasons to suspect that it was cheated out of the election. This is a real disaster in the making.
posted by rcade at 8:33 AM on November 8, 2000

Which is entirely possible.


Regarding Palm Beach, this much is clear: approximately 3000 voters accidentally voted for Buchanan where they intended to vote for Gore. The evidence for that is pretty solid.

The question is whether this mistake will be corrected. Legally, maybe not. But it's as much a political question as it is a legal one.
posted by johnb at 8:38 AM on November 8, 2000

This site has an image of the ballot in question.
posted by gyc at 9:29 AM on November 8, 2000

Looks pretty clear to me, and very similar to Illinois ballot. It was a little confusing when I got to the section with the 7000 judges. Those jerks were right on top of each other.This just lends credibility to the minimum IQ required to vote crowd.
posted by thirteen at 9:43 AM on November 8, 2000

You bet.

Stupidity is supposed to be expensive. Anyone who couldn't figure that ballot out Deserves To Lose.

Yeah; that's elitist. Cope.
posted by baylink at 10:06 AM on November 8, 2000

Perhaps a simple literacy test would solve the problem.
posted by sudama at 10:24 AM on November 8, 2000

Being able to fill in the right oval for a particular candidate is probably a good test already...
posted by gyc at 10:31 AM on November 8, 2000

Anyone who couldn't figure that ballot out Deserves To Lose.

How about extending that logic to the candidates themselves, requiring a minimum IQ to be elected? If we did that, Bush would long ago have been pre-disqualified, and we would all be sleeping easier.
posted by johnb at 10:41 AM on November 8, 2000

As Well as Gore. Leaving Nader to WIN! Whoo!
posted by tiaka at 11:04 AM on November 8, 2000

These returns suggest Buchanan got a boost from the badly designed ballot.

I'm surprised at the amount of antipathy levelled at voters "unable to read a ballot" here. The design of the ballot was bad. People don't read in weird diagonals. The word "Democratic" was very near the second oval (which elected Reform). It's a legitimate case of design causing confusion. It's not an intelligence test.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to figure how many folks 'meant' to vote for Gore.
posted by peterme at 11:19 AM on November 8, 2000

Yeah, it's interesting how many people who are religious about usability issues in HCI design and web design are pooh-poohing this when it comes to ballot design. (And I have to wonder if there aren't statutes or regulations about readability and usability for the Federal government that would apply here, at least in the highly speculative environment of election law.)
posted by rodii at 12:02 PM on November 8, 2000

I didn't say it was good design, I just said it was understandable. Alot of people cannot read a train schedule either. The design as it is seems to be required in order to make it work with a card reader, and not be a minimum of twice the length. I can imagine a networked computer in each booth, votes hyperlinked off the candidates name, NSA superfirewall to prevent hacking.
Voting is decidedly less glamorous than it should be. My polling place was in a nursing home. I stood in a corrugated plastic booth and manipulated a pin the size of a worn down pencil stub. I was grateful I did not end up sitting at the bingo table booths. The ballot box was a plywood crate with a padlock that had seen better days. On the plus side I did get a free donught, (not a Krispy Kreme =( ) and the little old lady election judges seem to enjoy themselves.
posted by thirteen at 12:19 PM on November 8, 2000

A free doughnut? Is that (scary music) VOTER FRAUD???

posted by daveadams at 12:43 PM on November 8, 2000

seems to be required in order to make it work with a card reader

heh. how much does that sound like "we had to design this stupid, screwed-up bit of software because that's how Netscape/Macs/WebTV boxes/fillintheblank like it"?

that *is* a rotten design. thanks for sharing the link, gyc.

oh, and john---if you were manipulating a pin and not a pen, you weren't voting for *me*, and now I'll never talk to you again.
posted by Sapphireblue at 12:46 PM on November 8, 2000

I was actually thinking about this the other day, I wanted to ask, but I was afraid of being laughed at. Why not computerized voting? Set up simple machines, in large quantities around the country, linked to a central server that deposits the votes and we get a live voting count. Set up major, major security and you've got 0% fraud. No paper wasted, accurate and live read outs, all votes accounted for, no boxes being lost or anything.
posted by tiaka at 12:59 PM on November 8, 2000

I was thinking of you in the voting booth Ms.Blue (I really was), I have never done a write in before and I forgot to bring a pen. It was not apathy that kept you from getting my vote, but rather embarrassment that kept me from asking for a pen. I am quite certain you would be a much better president than either of those guys. Plus I think you would find my wife to be an excellent vice-president (I was gonna write her in too).
Maybe wider card readers are the answer.
posted by thirteen at 1:05 PM on November 8, 2000

Obviously none of you have bad vision. I can't believe the calousness being displayed at the hardships of the elderly and disabled.
posted by Ptrin at 1:11 PM on November 8, 2000

tiaka, why is it only "the Dems" who are desperate? That's such an unnecessary ad hominem.

Clearly, both sides are desperate in a situation in which the national vote differs by less than 1%, and the vote in a single state differs by 3/10 of 1%.
posted by dhartung at 1:20 PM on November 8, 2000

Gawd, those jerks at Freerepublic are screaming "coup d'etat" and "civil war", as if only Democrats are capable of vote fraud. Or as if more than 48.2% of the country were with them. (These, of course, are the same people who believe it their Christian duty, or something, to "freep" online polls by steering as many right-wingers to them as possible, thus "proving" that the people are actually with them. You get an actual election, though ....)

Christ almighty, I hope shrill bastards of that stripe never find Metafilter. Please. I pray.
posted by dhartung at 1:26 PM on November 8, 2000

Yeah, this is really bad interface design. Gore was the second candidate on the left, but the third circle in the middle? This is just begging for mistakes.

Meanwhile, Bush was the first candidate on the left and the first circle. No such chance of misunderstanding there.

It's not a question of whether or not people are reading the ballot. It's just counter-intuitive.

It's pretty amazing really; the hinge factor in this election might've a poorly designed ballot, proving once again that bad interface design can be deadly (to your chances of becoming president anyway.)
posted by ratbastard at 1:33 PM on November 8, 2000

Yeah, Jakob will be laughing all the way to the bank, won't he?

Tiaka: the problem with online voting is mostly that it's damned difficult, verging on impossible, to simultaneously get anonymity, non-duplication, and non-repudiability in the same system.

A quick perusal of the sources on the first page of this Google search makes me feel safe suggesting that you skim over them for further answers on this topic.

Voting fraud is *really* profitable, if you can pull it off without getting caught; the necessary level of security is right up there with life-safety systems, even though it seems like maybe it shouldn't be.

Anyone who tells you different has an agenda.
posted by baylink at 1:47 PM on November 8, 2000

John: but is your wife on board with the pro-smoking, anti-kid ticket we discussed too? serious bait and switch. you didn't even die in a plane crash. election fraud ahoy!!
posted by Sapphireblue at 1:48 PM on November 8, 2000

This would make a great textbook case study in a design class.

My smug Canadian ass can't believe there isn't a single ballot design for the whole country that is expressly (and well) designed for maximum foolproofness. Our ballots here are long papers with a broad black strip, in the center of which are large (dime-sized) circles in which any mark can be made to register your vote.

See: for an example.
posted by mikel at 1:50 PM on November 8, 2000

Perhaps a simple literacy test would solve the problem.

Erm... Sudama, you do realize that the purpose of literacy testing at the polls was to prevent African Americans from voting after passage of the 15th Amendment?

You do understand that, right?

Nice. Real nice.
posted by ratbastard at 1:54 PM on November 8, 2000

I do hope that ratbastard was being as sarcastic as sudama.
posted by harmful at 2:03 PM on November 8, 2000

Given Sudama's previous posts about racial issues and the fact that he linked to a page about the Voting Rights Act of 1965, I'm entirely confident that he was being tongue-in-cheek.
posted by snarkout at 2:04 PM on November 8, 2000

Yes, that was sarcasm.
posted by ratbastard at 2:06 PM on November 8, 2000

I voted in North Florida, and we used a completely different ballot than the one in Palm Beach County. I don't understand why Florida has more than one style of ballot in use during an election like this.
posted by rcade at 2:45 PM on November 8, 2000

Don't the ballots have to be different since each city, county, district, etc. votes for a different set of local officials?
posted by harmful at 2:56 PM on November 8, 2000

As far as I am aware, in most states anyway, it's up to the individual counties to take care of all the aspects of the election in their county. I'm sure there are some state regulations that are enforced over them all, though. Maybe Florida needs to add one?
posted by daveadams at 3:01 PM on November 8, 2000

Incidentally, there's a fairly striking graphical representation of this whole fiasco right here.

Something is definitely fishy here. That Palm Beach Buchanan vote is way out of line, especially for an otherwise liberal county. But, there's not much that can be done, is there? Maybe a runoff or a revote, but I doubt there are many precedents or provisions in the law for that either. Maybe they'll eventually take it to the courts, one the recount is over? If so, this could drag on for months. It's a shame that the election might end up being decided by something like this though, no matter who wins.
posted by jdunn_entropy at 3:21 PM on November 8, 2000

Here's another, more straightforward graphic depicting the same.
posted by mathowie at 3:28 PM on November 8, 2000

Harmful: The names may change, but the style of the ballot should remain the same. In fact, it's reportedly a law in Florida that ballots must be designed so the mark is made to the right of a candidate's name. That would make these ballots illegal.
posted by rcade at 8:13 PM on November 8, 2000

harmful, that's the challenge of designing such a thing - to separate the design from the content to the extent that one (the design - or should I call it the user interface?) can remain totally constant while the other is completely customizable.

rcade - according to that article, the law also states that the ballots must be marked with an X to the right. Which seems to obviate the use of hole punch or mechanical systems.

One prediction I can make with some certainty - every jurisdiction in the US will be going over its rules and laws about balloting etc. following this to ensure that inconsistencies like this can't happen as easily in the future.
posted by mikel at 8:59 PM on November 8, 2000

I'd love to see that happen too Mikel. But I'm afraid the attitude of "That's what they get for not knowing how to read" will prevail among the general public.

I mean, a lot of us here on metafilter fancy ourselves as interface designers, and you've even got some of us making those kinds of dismissive remarks.

What I predict is that this will be a great example to demonstrate to the public just how important interface design is.
posted by ratbastard at 5:56 AM on November 9, 2000

I read that the Buchanan vote in Palm Beach County in the Presidential primary in 1996 was 8,788.

I've heard that a cousin of Buchanan's lives in that county and is quite active in promoting Buchanan.

As for the ballot, we had that same style ballot in Arizona up until this year and I never heard of any confusion (and certainly never experienced any myself).
posted by bbrown at 8:47 AM on November 9, 2000

Maybe the people here who are UI designers will now volunteer themselves to design ballots for future elections.
posted by gyc at 9:26 AM on November 9, 2000

bbrown: Note of course that that's the Republican Presidential primary, where you're going to see ONLY Republicans come out to pick who will be their candidate for the election. So, yes, you'll see an inordinately high number of Buchanan supporters there because you're not taking a sample of the entire population, just Republicans who voted in the primary.
posted by zempf at 2:21 PM on November 9, 2000

Naturally, but I was just trying to illustrate that there are (possibly) that many Buchanan supporters.

Whether they moved on or voted Buchanan in the election is a valid question, though.
posted by bbrown at 7:12 AM on November 13, 2000

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