Articles and Analysis


The New Hampshire Recount

Topics: 2008 , ABC , Barack Obama , Exit Polls , Hillary Clinton , John Edwards , Jon Cohen , New Hampshire , The 2008 Race , Washington Post

Arguably, the election results that will get the least attention today involve the hand recount underway in New Hampshire at the request of Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich. The results of the recount so far, as posted by the New Hampshire Secretary of State, show some minor discrepancies but nothing that would explain pre-election surveys over the final weekend of the campaign showing Barack Obama running ahead of Hillary Clinton.

In most cases, the minor glitches appear to involve uncounted write-in votes or minor clerical errors. As the Union Leader reported yesterday:

The widest variations so far were in Manchester's Ward 5. Vote counters there mistakenly transposed write-in votes for vice president as votes for presidential candidate. As a result, all major candidates lost votes. Kucinich lost three in the ward and has a total of 20 votes there. Hillary Clinton lost 64 with a new total of 619; John Edwards lost 38 and has 217 votes; Barack Obama lost 39 and has 365, and Bill Richardson lost seven, leaving him 39.

For those interested, Salon's Farhad Manjoo has a nice review of the various fraud theories and the evidence (or lack thereof) behind them. One possibly overlooked point is that New Hampshire uses no touchscreen voting machines. Every ballot cast there was cast on paper, although as Manjoo reports, four out of five of the ballots were counted with optical scan equipment: "The machines that read the ballots and the computers that count the ballots and report the results are made by a company notorious for shoddy practices: Diebold."

Those who have raised questions about the count have pointed to vote returns showing Barack Obama doing better in the minority of mostly rural precincts that counted the votes by hand, while Clinton did better where votes were counted by Diebold machines. The most likely explanation, as Manjoo puts it: "Those places simply vote differently." See his article for the details, or the analysis of past vote results by the Washington Post's Jennifer Agiesta and Jon Cohen.

What about exit poll results cited by Chris Matthews showing Obama ahead? The problem is that the numbers that Matthews saw were likely based on a "composite" estimate that melds exit poll tallies and pre-election polls. It would not be surprising if those results showed an advantage for Obama (I blogged about that issue on Election Day well before any results were available).

I had no access to the "end of day" exit poll tallies available to the network decision desks, but Manjoo went directly to the source:

Daniel Merkle, who heads ABC News' "decision desk" -- which was getting the exact same exit polling data that folks at NBC were getting -- told me that the numbers he was receiving during Election Day did not show a certain Obama win. Merkle said the data indicated "a very close race on the Democratic side," and "that's what it ended up being."

"It was within a couple points," Merkle said. "When we're seeing an exit poll within a couple points, that's a close race." The exit poll numbers, he added, were a "surprise" compared to pre-election polls. "The exit poll was not showing an 8- to 10-point Obama lead. It was showing a close race."

Manjoo's piece is well worth reading in full, but he closes with a point made so well that I want to quote it in full:

Last night I had a long discussion with Brad Friedman, who runs the election-reform news Web site Brad Blog. Over and over, he said, "My biggest concern here is that 80 percent of the vote is uncounted by any human being." His request is simple and straightforward: "Why not count the damn votes?"

He's right. Why not count the votes?

And thanks to Kucinich, that's what will likely happen now. It will probably take some time; weeks, if not months. But soon, we'll know what happened.

But as many voting-reform experts have argued, manually counting the votes should be a routine in any race. There are logistical reasons why it would be impractical to hand count every vote in every election. But if we're going to use machines -- optical-scan machines that use paper ballots, that is; touch-screen machines everywhere ought to be burned -- we should, at least, conduct a randomized, accountant-approved audit of ballots.

In other words, after every election, officials should randomly count some number of ballots to double-check the machines' results. It is amazing that this is not a standard procedure across the country; it is a disgrace that election officials aren't rushing to implement such procedures now.

I couldn't agree more. Exit polls are extremely useful to those of us that want to understand who voted and the meaning of election outcomes, but they are a terrible way to verify the vote count. Random, hand-count audits coupled with optical scan voting would help raise everyone's confidence in the integrity of our elections. Without regular, independent, random audits, these perennial conspiracy theories will continue.





This election is being rigged by the Clintons and the corporations backing them.

Spread the truth.


Harald K:

There's at least one "respectable" blogger, Chris Chatham at ScienceBlogs (http://scienceblogs.com/developingintelligence/), who claims that the "diebold effect" remains after controlling for income, population density, geography, education, campaign presence, and how contested the race was locally.

"Those people just vote differently" remains the most possible explanation, I think, but since no one has yet come up with a simple explanation WHY they do so, the speculation is understandable. Accountable, audited voting procedures, including chain of custody (the biggest problem according to BBV), is the cure. Whether the illness is paranoia or election fraud.


Mark Lindeman:

Harald, it will be interesting to watch the dust settle over whether measured demographics can statistically account for the NH results, but there's no a priori reason to expect them to (with or without a "Diebold effect"). So I'm left with the facts that (1) controlling for Kerry's primary performance in 2004, the "Diebold effect" goes away or even reverses sign and (2) I really have no reason to believe that Howard Dean won New Hampshire, even though he won the hand-count jurisdictions.

At any rate, I agree that solid auditing practices would help a lot. Nothing can defeat actual paranoia, but at least it could be much easier to identify.

(Adam, it's funny you should say that, since Brad seems adamant that he is saying no such thing.)



I don't know why it would be impractical to hand count every single vote in every election. In Denmark, that is what is done, and we usually have an accurate election result about 3 to 4 hours after the polls close. It is fast and accurate. I know that Denmark is a small country (about 5 million people), but the relative amount of effort involved doesn't change between 5 million and 300 million. And bear in mind that Denmark has around 10 to 12 competitive parties in every election.



It is also what we do in the UK - count every vote by hand with most constituencies returning a result after 5-6 hours (polls close at 10pm, most results are between 3-4am, though some geographically smaller constituencies get the results done quicker). In 2005 something like 27 million people iirc. If we can organise it, there is no reason it could not be organised in the US.


Rick Matland:

For the Danish and UK comments it's important to realize U.S. election ballots look NOTHING LIKE most European ballots. Americans can be voting on dozens of positions and initiatives and referendum. In the last presidential election I believe I voted in 25 different elections that day. Presidential elections could be separate, but that gets tricky too. Furthermore, over a typical four year period there will be possibly 20 different elections. So election administration in the U.S. is a good deal more complicated than in Europe.

That said, the idea of randomly recounting some precincts as a regular part of every election makes good sense and should be done automatically. Are there any places in the U.S. where this does happen?



Who is doing the recount?


Mark Lindeman:

Rick, yes, there are places where precincts are routinely counted randomly. At this point some of the best implementations are North Carolina, Connecticut, and Minnesota -- but New Jersey just passed a statistical audit that should be best-in-breed once it actually gets a paper trail to audit!

Here is a rundown of audit requirements by state, although the new NJ law isn't there. If you aren't happy with what your state is doing... hey, have some time on your hands?

Andrew, my understanding is that temporary workers are doing the recount, at a central location in Concord, in the presence of observers.



Ballot boxes were slit.. sealsa were broken and/or crumpled. There is NO confidence in the chain of custody at this point and any claim that the recount reflects the actual votes of the people is utterly false.



Frank Henry:



If the Kucinich team comes up with the full
$70,000 or so a full 100% may be done.

As of late last week it seems the team
has come up with about $27,000. So, only
a smaller portion of the ballots will be

If you want a 100% recount call the Kucinich
team and send them money, if they need/want
the cash.

(This call for HELP for 100% recount is an
independent call by me. I've sent $100.)

Thanks and Good Luck,

Frank Henry
Tel: 928-649-0249
e-mail: fmhenry4@netzero.com



Great perspective here - I couldn't agree more with the sentiment. But, why are we so quick to write off the idea of a full hand count as simply impractical? I'm originally from the UK and we have a full hand count of elections as a total norm - and in some districts they can get the result out like this in a matter of hours after polls close using a bank of 100s of volunteers. Hand counting is not impossible - if someone in DC had the backbone to pass the amendment people in the states would find a way to make it work.



Absolutely agree with Paul. I vote in that small town known as London (UK), where all votes are cast on paper and counted by hand, and returns usually take a matter of 3-4 hours. The ballots for each district are counted in large rooms (often school halls and the like), by teams of staff (usually bank tellers, and those used to this sort of work), being watched (but not contacted) by representatives of each of the parties, with television cameras present.

There has not been questions over the validity of the votes or the counts in a long time, and the costs are appreciably lower than in the US.



Just a thought do you think there is a link between this election claims in NewH and the Kenyan election dispute? After all OB is the alleged nephew of the opposition leader in Kenya who says the election was rigged.
Is thre something am picking up here?


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