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Since a lot of people from around the world have asked me what in the world is going on in the US election, I thought a brief explanatory note would be helpful.
(1) Al Gore received the most votes in the election, with some 200,000 more votes than Gore (sic - Vance). Gore received one of the highest vote totals in US history (more votes than Clinton received in either the 1992 or 1996 election.) (A third-party Green candidate, Ralph Nader, received more than 2.6 million votes, thus increasing further the vote margin of the left-center vs. the right.)
(2) US elections, however, are decided not by the total vote but by an archaic mechanism called the Electoral College, in which each state has a certain number of electoral votes awarded on a winner-take-all basis of the votes in that state. People have criticized the electoral college on several grounds, including the fact that it can occasionally go against the popular vote (as it may in this election). Less known is the fact that the electoral votes in each state are not proportional to population, since they are based not only on the amount of House of Representative members in each state (proportional to population) but also on the additional number of Senate members (two for each state, big or small) The inclusion of Senate numbers in the electoral vote number means that small states (which are predominately rural and conservative) are disproporionately favored, and indeed, it is the inclusion of these two electoral votes for each state that will give Bush the margin of victory (if he also manages to win the state of Florida).
(3) Right now the election depends on the outcome of the state of Florida. In the first count, Bush is ahead in the state by some 1700 votes (roughly 1/30 of 1 percent of the state's vote). The closeness of the vote is triggering an automatic recount. The final vote total can also be influenced by some mail-in ballots from outside the US which have not yet been received.
(4) Beyond the matter of the recount, there are a number of alleged election irregularities reported in Florida which may result in investigation, protest, or court litigation. These include the following:
(a) missing ballot boxes
(b) the case of the confusing ballots in Palm County, Florida. In this predominately Jewish and Black county (which went strongly for Gore), the ballot was laid out in a confusing manner, causing thousands of Gore supporters to accidentally mark their ballot for a minor right-wing candidate, Pat Buchanan. Buchanan received an average of about 500 votes per county in Florida and in no other county did he receive more than 1010. In Palm County, however, Buchanan received a total of 3407 votes, which can only be explained by this ballot irregularity. (This alone could account for more than the vote margin between Bush and Gore in the state, since it robbed Gore of some 3000 votes.)
(c) remarkably and suspiciously high voter turnout in some rural, conservative areas of the state
(d) a reported decision by the state electoral officials to include up to 1500 write-in votes for other Republican candidates (e.g., John McCain) as votes for George Bush (alleged, but not yet proven)
All these irregularities must also be seen in light of the fact that the person overseeing the electoral process in Florida is Jeb Bush, who is the Republican governor of Florida and is also George Bush's brother. Jeb Bush has appointed a 3-person electoral commision to oversee the election which includes himself and two other prominent Republican officials.
Sorting this out might take anywhere from a couple of days (if the declared loser accepts the results of the recount) to weeks or even months (if there are court cases to challenge the Florida elections).
For updated information on the election, see regular news sources (such as cnn.com); also see Peter Orvetti's election report (orvetti.com). For ongoing discussion of the Florida situation, go to Salon.com and then go to "Table Talk" and then go to White House folder and then the discussion on "the FLORIDA-ONLY presidential results thread" (or any of the other discussions which interest you).
I am also including below a recent posting from Phil Agre's Red Rock Eater news list, discussing previous vote irregularities in Florida's computer-based voting system. Mark
From: Phil Agre <email@example.com>
Subject: [RRE]Florida recount
Date: Wed, 8 Nov 2000 09:25:02 -1000
[Peter Orvetti <http://www.orvetti.com/>, whose site was easily the fastest and most reliable last night, says that a locked ballot box was found in a Democratic region of Florida. Missing ballot boxes are a Florida tradition, and I enclose a piece on the 1988 Senate election that Peter Neumann wrote for SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes. Reformatted to 70 columns.]
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Date: Wed, 8 Nov 2000 10:20:27 PST
From: "Peter G. Neumann" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
FROM SIGSOFT Software Engineering Notes, January 1989, Peter G. Neumann:
The latest item on the integrity of computers in elections relates to the November 1988 Senate race in Florida. *The New York Times* (Saturday, 12 Nov 88, page 9) had an article by Andrew Rosenthal on suspicions of fraud arising from the results. At the end of the Election Day ballot counting, the Democrat Buddy Mackay was ahead. After the absentee ballots were counted, the Republican Connie Mack was declared the winner by 30,000 votes out of 4 million. However, in four counties (for which B.R.C. provided the computing services), the number of votes counted for Senator was 200,000 votes less than the votes for President while in other counties and in previous elections the two vote totals have generally been close to each other. Remembering that punched card are intrinsically a flaky medium and easy to alter surreptitiously, and that the computer systems in question reportedly permit their operators to turn off the audit trails and to change arbitrary memory locations on the fly, it seems natural to wonder whether anything strange went on. Subsequent to the Times article, a recount was requested, but a selective recount of a few precincts apparently turned up nothing unusual. However, doubts linger about the essential subvertibility of the process -- particularly in the case of punched cards.
In Texas, a law suit has been filed on behalf of the voters of the state challenging the entire election and requesting not a recount but an entirely new election. The grounds are that the State did not follow its own procedures for certifying the election equipment.
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