Recall 2003: Was California Stolen Using Dishonest Voting Machines?

Probably Not

There are some people, particularly in the liberal/progressive camp, who sound the alarm about the new electronic voting machines, especially Diebold brand, saying they could be used to cheat in an election. Several programming eggheads at Johns Hopkins looked at the source code of Diebold's touchscreen voting machines, and indeed found serious weaknesses in that code.

However, I've just got done crunching the numbers on the California Recall, courtesy of the Secretary of State's web page, and it doesn't look to me like there was any machine-skullduggery this time. There does, however, appear to have been a lot of disgust with Davis (surprise, surprise!) even among Democrats. Muchos kudos to the Secretary of State's staff for all the great data scattered around their site.

There are 3 main types of voting methods in California currently.
1) Punch cards-- 20 counties including Sandy Eigo (us) and Los Angeles.
2) Fill-in-the-bubble or draw-a-line, which are then scanned by optical scanning machines-- 34 counties. The majority of California votes this way, including San Francisco.
3) Touchscreens-- 4 counties, including Riverside.

I approximated historical voting trends for each county by looking at how they voted in the 2000 elections for President and for Senator. I then rated each county as being historically Democrat/Liberal, or historically Republican. It was a real complicated formula:

I took the average of the Presidential and Senate votes for each party in each county. For example Butte came out to average 39.55% Democrat votes, 51% Republican votes, and 6.25% Greens votes in the two 2000 elections. Then I assumed that Greens and Democrats both counted as "liberals" for purposes of the recall, and lumped those averages together to get the county's "leanings". Doing this, Butte County is still 51% Republican and 45.8% Damn Pinko Liberal-- er, Democratic/Liberal.

Mostly, yes/no on the recall fell out along historical voting lines, regardless of voting method. However, interestingly enough, a number of historically (by the above standard) Democrat/liberal counties "threw over" and voted for the recall. They also all voted for Gropina-- Schwarzenegger by varying majorities. There were no historically Republican counties which threw over and voted against the recall. The "renegade" counties are:

County yes-no %'sVoting Method
Lake 54-46Bubble Card, DFM
Merced 63-34Bubble Card, ES&S
San Joaquin 61-38Bubble Card, Diebold
Santa Barbara 57-43Bubble Card, Diebold
San Bernardino70-30Marked-Line Card, Sequoia
Imperial 62-37Punch Card, Datavote
Sacramento 59-41Punch Card, Pollstar
San Benito 55-45Punch Card, Datavote
San Diego 66-34Punch Card, Votomatic
Ventura 63-37Punch Card, Datavote

(notice that Gray Blur even lost Sacramento. That's gotta hurt.)

As you can see, not only did there seem to be no difference between write-on-cards, punch cards, and their vendors as far as counties throwing over, none of the throw-over counties had electronic touchscreens. In fact, Alameda County, which is historically Democratic/liberal, has touchscreens and still voted against the recall.

So, disgusted as I am with the outcome (that is to say, marginally more disgusted than I would have been had Gray Blur stayed), I can't claim any voting-machine conspiracies on this one.

But if you think punch cards are primitive, take a gander at how some of these poor other slobs have to vote:

Typical bubble cards (26 counties)

And even lamer:

What about the poor SOB that has palsy or drank too much coffee??? "AAAAAA!!! I just voted for 3 candidates at once!!!!!"
(8 unfortunate counties)

I can really see now why there is this push to modernize voting mechs.

The morbidly analytically curious may download my data spreadsheet, if so inclined.

Pulling it all together, here are some maps off the Secretary of State's page.

The Counties of California (key)

How They Voted on Part 1 of the ballot...

... And Who Won Each County in Part 2

For Comparison, here are the 2000 elections:

Notice that in the 2000 elections, the "Dem/Lib zone" is spread much further out for Senator Feinstein than in 2003's recall election. She evidently had some crossover appeal into the more-conservative interior.
In the 2003 recall election, the votes fell on the "Dem/Liberal" side only in the hardest-core enclaves of the Bay Area and Los Angeles. (You can see why they call it "the Left Coast"!)

Pictures of the various voting mechanisms used in California as of this date, October 2003:

(L-R): The Datavote, Pollstar and Votomatic punch-card systems.
For the Votomatic (I'm an expert because I have used these things for the last 10 years) the card is slid into a "booklet". Next to each page of the booklet (in the narrow slot in the middle) are holes, which line up with candidate names on the page. A small spring-loaded stylus is attached to the "booklet" with a chain. You jab the point of the stylus down at the hole you want, and it pokes a metal piece down into the hole to punch out the chad on the card. When done voting, you and the poll worker remove the card, inspect it for hanging/naughty chads, and drop it into the ballot box when all is kosher.
I can't see how you could possibly get hanging chads with this system. Either Florida had some voters who were so physically weak they were practically at death's door and could barely lift the stylus let alone k'chonk it in there, or they had a less efficient mechanism for punching the chads out of the cards.
"Chads"... to think, before 2000 I just called those little square bits "confetti"... if I even thought about them at all.
Anyway-- on to the next gadgets.

(L-R):Diebold Accuvote and DFM MarkAVote bubble-card systems.
You manually fill in the bubbles or squares on the card, then a machine optically reads them to record your vote.

Sequoia's Optech. I'm sorry, this just looks totally lame to me. Maybe those who have actually used them can beg to differ. The manually-written-on result is optically scanned by a machine to record your vote.

(L-R): Sequoia Pacific and Diebold Accuvote Touch.
As you can see, Sequoia can come up with a reasonably user-friendly system; this involves a card that you slide into the machine before voting. (But take note: it was a Diebold card-reading machine whose code the Johns Hopkins guys analyzed and found wanting.) Ya gotta admit, though-- the Diebold machine has a spiffy user interface. Not a playah in this election, though-- Alameda and Plumas Counties had these fancy Diebolds and they both voted exactly per their prior history-- Alameda liberal, and Plumas conservative.

Back to Political Produce Stand Back to Crocuta Main