Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Spiegel - dizzy from Republican spin?

Brian at Cincinnati blog is exactly right. Lazy journalism at Gannett. The story, which ran in the Enquirer and probably elsewhere, concerns undeliverable voter cards sent to new registrants or those that changed their address.

Here's how reporter Jim Siegel starts out:
COLUMBUS - Thousands of cards mailed by county election boards to newly registered voters in Hamilton County and throughout the state are being returned because the people can't be found.

John Williams, director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections, said the situation indicates that there might not be as many new voters as some expect in a state deemed crucial in the presidential election.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett on Tuesday said it's a result of statewide registration fraud conducted by independent groups that support Democratic candidates.

As Brian notes, it's all indirect quotes and GOP press release stuff. I know from other sources that Bennett spent Oct. 19 trying to divert attention from the Ohio Poll with this crap about voter fraud.

But let's deal with merits of Bennett's charges. First about 5,000 cards were returned. Is fraud a possibility? Yes. Is fraud a possible cause for a significant number of the returns (say, over 500)? Doubtful. Why? Because fraud is relatively easy to detect because of things like returned cards. The biggest cases of confirmed fraud have apparently occurred because of personal gain (pay in the ACORN Franklin County case and crack cocaine in Toledo) or dirty tricks (as in the Cleveland AFL-CIO case). In other words, there hasn't been one shred of evidence of planned, systematic efforts to illegally register anyone. Again, that's for the obvious reason that anyone trying that is going to get caught. That's the job of the Boards of Election.

So what else could it be. Here, I am going to draw on direct experience. I was in a position at one point to see a lot of completed voter registration forms. One thing I learned - a lot of Ohio adults handwriting looks like gibberish. I mentioned at the time how I pity the BOEs data entry staff. Now, I am sure these data people are damn good at figuring out what people meant to write as their name and address, but I know they have their limits. I also know they had to hire a lot of non-experienced temps to input the data as the number of new registration forms piled up. If 4,100 cards out of 63,000 were returned, my guess is that at least half of those were due to indecipherable applications.

Again continuing with my experience, I have been exposed to a lot of data processing projects. Input error is real. I once had a project that required clerical staff to input 5,000 email addresses. About 5% were input incorrectly. Email addresses, of course, are much more unforgiving of typos than street addresses. But my guess is that about a quarter of the returns would be due to typing errors.

Finally, there is the issue of moving. I know a person that does a postal mailing to a list of working Ohioans every 3 months. Even though this is a pretty stable group, they say the experience 2-5% "bad address" returns with each mailing. Why? Their testing shows it occurs for a variety of reasons, but mainly it occurs because people just move without leaving a forwarding address. My guess is that changed addresses account for most of the balance of the voter registration returns.

Concluding it's voter fraud is pure Republican spin. It's pure lousy journalism when there is no evidence demanded or examined to substantiate those charges.


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