December 2, 2020

Needed: Careful E-Voting Correlation Study

Tuesday’s election created lots of data about voting patterns in places that used different voting technologies. Various people have done exploratory data analysis, to see how jurisdictions that used e-voting might differ from those that did not. See, for example, the analysis cited in Joe Hall’s entry over at evoting-experts.com.

As a commenter on Joe’s entry (“Jon”) notes, voting technology is not the only difference between Florida counties that might account for the observed differences. Counties that used e-voting tend to be larger, more densely populated, and more Democratic-leaning than those that don’t. Perhaps these differences explain the data.

To answer questions like these would require more sophisticated data analysis, probably performed by a person who does such analyses for a living. Such a person could control for differences in voter demographics, for instance, to see whether there is an e-voting effect separate from the kinds of differences cited above. Such a person could also tell us how big the remaining effect is, and whether it is statistically significant.

It would be great if some hotshot social science data analyst would agree to do such a study. I’m sure that the folks out there who have data would be willing to furnish it, and to suggest theories to test.

It’s also worth thinking about what a particular finding would tell us. It’s one thing to find an anomaly in the data; but it’s another thing to explain what could have caused it. If you can point to an anomaly, but you don’t have a plausible story about how a rational election-stealing strategy would have caused that anomaly, then you don’t have strong proof of fraud, no matter how much evidence of the anomaly’s existence you can present.

If real anomalies exist, I think it’s more likely that they’ll turn out to be caused by errors or technology failures than by e-voting fraud. Either way, a careful study of the data might be able to teach us a lot about how well various voting technologies work in practice.

Comments

  1. Nice post. It was great to see the eVoting technologies work without any major problems this past Tuesday. Hopefully, this will be a shot in the arm for the technologies and things will start to move faster for the rest of us in the country.

    In this age of computers, it is sad that most of are still relegated to filling in circles on a piece of paper with a pencil.

  2. The comment by Kerry must be a plant of some sort… 1) there were numerous problems; 2) we don’t want things moving any faster in the voting technology world than they already have; 3) filling out circles on a piece of paper with a pen (pencils can smudge/be erased) is the best hope we have at the moment for quick in-precinct tabulation with an independent official record of the vote.

  3. Furthermore, the worst thing about paperless voting is the possibity of undetectable problems caused by fraud or malfunction. Even for systems where no problems were detected on Tuesday, there may have been major problems that we will never know about.

  4. Steve Purpura says:

    I have access to voting prediction models if someone has data/theory they want to test about e-voting.

    The important thing to think about is what change(s) would we expect to see by putting a voting machine in a voting booth? And how do we measure it?

    Exampls:
    Did a specific model of voting machine make it easier to select a single Party suite of candidates for each state the machine was used in? We might expect to see significant differences in party vote strength for all state/federal candidates (2004 and 2000) when examining counties using these machines vs other counties.

  5. A work in progress seems to be:
    http://ustogether.org/election04/florida_vote_patt.htm
    for a preliminary comparison of voters registered for a party and the actual votes cast during election.
    If it’s the same Charlie Strauss of Los Alamos and VVNM, the analysis seems pretty credible.

  6. Ed Felten on Careful E-Voting Analysis

    Needed: Careful E-Voting Correlation Study Tuesday’s election created lots of data about voting patterns in places that used different voting technologies. Various people have done exploratory data analysis, to see how jurisdictions that used e-voting …

  7. Steve Purpura says:

    I’ve looked at the ustogether.org analysis. When one typically does this type of examination, they control for additional variables. The site doesn’t note whether that’s been done.

    I know I can obtain information about voting machine technology use from verfiedvoting.org. If anyone knows where I can easily obtain the dates that each county shifted between voting technologies (short of asking all of the county voting commissioners) then I’ll spit back an analysis of deviations by technology using 1996/2000/2004 voting with controlling variables (income, population, etc.)