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October 29th, 2008
07:32 PM ET

Flipping out over vote flipping

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/29/voting.lines.jpg ]

Ian Inaba
Co-founder, Video the Vote

With early voting all the rage in 2008, voters have already been casting ballots – and encountering problems – for weeks. One of the biggest concerns we’ve seen at Video the Vote is vote flipping: voters choose one option (e.g., Ralph Nader) and the electronic machine records a different choice (e.g., John McCain). Written reports of vote flipping have emerged from Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and elsewhere. So we headed to Jackson County, West Virginia, to get a first hand look.

What we found was concerning:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Q9NSVUu8nk

County Clerk Jeff Waybright showed us how an uncalibrated machine flips votes. But then, the machine appears to malfunction even after the machine is calibrated. Not surprisingly, the video has caught fire online, being viewed more than 250,000 times.

We have since been told by West Virginia officials that the machine was actually working correctly: When Mr. Waybright pressed Ralph Nader for president and then pressed a straight Republican ticket, the machine kept the vote for Nader to maintain voter intent. In software terms, it’s a feature, not a bug.

Despite statements by the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office to the contrary, Mr. Waybright never directly corrected himself in the video. However, for transparency’s sake, we’ve posted the entire unedited interview so voters can see for themselves:

http://videothevote.org/video/407/

If Mr. Waybright misspoke, we think it only reinforces the problems with these machines. When the head election official in Jackson County needs two tries to explain how the machine functions, what do we expect will happen to average voters who don’t get a second chance to cast their votes?

But Jackson County aside, there’s a broader point here that goes beyond a two-minute web video. Voters are clearly experiencing problems with touch screen machines, particularly the iVotronic made by Election Systems & Software (ES&S), and the problems are not limited to a handful of votes. In the 2006 Florida 13th District Congressional race, in which was decided by 373 votes, iVotronic machines registered more than 18,000 undervotes in Sarasota County – meaning one in every six voters didn’t have a vote counted on the most important race on the ticket. This discrepancy was never adequately explained.

As long as these very real problems persist, the use of touchscreen machines will continue to erode American’s confidence in our election systems. And given what’s happened in recent years, it can’t get much lower.

Ian Inaba is an award-winning director and producer whose credits include the Sundance-award-winning American Blackout, the controversial pre-election music video for Eminem's "Mosh," and the book True Lies.

AC360 on Thursday will have a special report on early voting, and how it's reshaping the election. Tune in at 10PM.


Filed under: 2008 Election • Early Voting • Raw Politics
October 27th, 2008
12:14 PM ET

Spinning the early vote

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/27/early.voting.jpg caption="Voters sit in line for early voting on Friday in Boynton Beach, Florida. "]

Paul Gronke
Director, Early Voting Information Center at Reed College

If the 2008 election looks like a 100-year-storm, then early voting  is an early warning system.  And the waves of voters are already spilling over the dikes.
 
As of Friday October 24th, 12 days before election day, more than seven million votes had already been cast. Georgia and North Carolina voters have been waiting in lines of up to two hours. There are scattered reports in Florida of even longer lines.

But it is the numbers that are shocking.  Early voting has smashed previous records in Texas, Florida, Illinois, Tennessee, Nevada–it's hard to find a state where records have not been broken.
Early voting in Georgia has already surpassed the total number voting early in 2004.

Records will be broken in many other states sometime next week.

Not only are a lot of citizens voting early this year, but the look of the early voter has changed.  In the past, I've described early voting like an apple pie (it's apple picking season out here in
Oregon).  Early voting doesn't make the pie any bigger–it doesn't draw new voters into the electorate–but it does take a slice out of the pie.

When you look at that early voting slice, it is usually a bit older, a bit whiter, a bit higher income, a bit better educated, and a bit more Republican.  But that means the rest of the pie–the voters who wait
until election day–are a bit more Democratic.

What did Grandma put into the pie this year?

African Americans are voting early in unprecedented numbers.  Blacks comprise 29% of the electorate in Georgia but 35% of the early electorate.  They are 24.2% of the North Carolina electorate and 28.%
of the early electorate there.   These may not seem like tremendous differences, but remember that, historically, African Americans have not opted to cast early ballots.

That slice also looks a lot more Democratic than it does in the past. In Franklin County, OH, a battleground county in a battleground state,the numbers are eye-opening: Democratic votes exceed Republican votes by a 12:1 margin.In other states, the numbers are not so lopsided,
but still trend toward the Democrats.  In six of the eight states that report early voting data by party, Democrats are outpacing Republicans.

I have tried my best to spin these numbers for John McCain, but it's getting difficult.  Let's look at some of the explanations.

Explanation 1: This is just a big wave of Democratic enthusiasm

Many Democrats are excited to finally cast a vote for Barack Obama and express their unhappiness with the Bush administration.  As one early voter told me: "getting my ballot this year was like getting my Christmas present two weeks early.  And I was not going to wait until Christmas day to open it!"

It's possible that this tide of Democratic voters will recede by Election Day, but there are two problems with this account.  First,the past has shown that early voting enthusiasm almost always
translates into election day enthusiasm.  This tide of voters will continue to rise.  Second, as Obama is able to mark names off his list, he is going to be able to redeploy resources to target
undecided voters, while McCain still has to focus on his base.  This cannot be good news.

Explanation 2: This is just a big wave of African American enthusiasm

This explanation has a lot more merit.  There is no denying the historic nature of this election, both for African Americans and for women.  I can certainly believe that the surprisingly high levels of
turnout are a combination of pent up excitement for the Democratic ticket, and the chance to vote for the first time for a Black candidate for President.  In this case, I think there is a very real chance that the election day electorate will look whiter than normal.

Explanation 3: Republicans are just biding their time until Election Day

Finally, it's possible that Republicans have changed their stripes, and unlike the past three or four presidential contests, have transformed into election day voters.  What I would worry about if I
were a GOP strategist, however, is that the voters hold their ballots for two reasons: uncertainty and unhappiness.  If GOP voters are either uncertain about John McCain or unhappy with the election, it
cannot bode well for Republican turnout.

It's possible that all these Democrats are voting early and won't be around on Election Day.  It's possible that Blacks are turning out early in unprecedented numbers to cast a Republican ballot.  And it's possible that Republicans are simply biding their time, lulling the Democrats into another Presidential failure.

It's possible, but really improbable.


Filed under: 2008 Election • Early Voting • Paul Gronke • Raw Politics