Friday, June 02, 2006

Like a Rolling Stone

Lots of progressive web-sites and blogs are linking to the new Rolling Stone article by RFK Jr. on vote fraud and disfranchisement in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. I couldn't resist adding a link on this blog.

For those who followed the blogosphere and non-mainstream media in the aftermath of the 2004 election, little of this will be new. However, it is nice to see the issue receive some thoughtful, comprehensive, and more widely-publicized attention. It also gives a good indication of which discrepancies and examples of malfeasance have proven to be more resistant to dismissal, after a year and a half of scrutiny.

1 comment:

christian_left said...

Sorry for commenting on my own blog entry, but I do feel that I need to include one caveat about RFK Jr.'s article. Reading through some of the heated debates on various progressive blogs (mostly at dailykos) made me realize that the discrepancy between exit polling data and reported vote count has figured prominently as prima facie evidence of outright vote fraud in the 2004 U.S. presidential election for many fraud believers. But that is actually the part of the RS article that I now find LEAST convincing. It is regrettable that he chose to foreground it so much. I can understand why--I myself was initially quite convinced by this discrepancy. It even motivated me to do quite a bit of playing around with polling and election numbers to find numerical patterns, which should be detectable if outright fraud (in the form of altering vote tallies) was widespread enough to make a difference. Alas, despite some promising leads, I never did find any patterns that did not ultimately (and sometimes rather slowly) admit of at least one plausible alternative explanation. Of course, I am not a specialist in survey methodology, so I assumed that others would eventually conduct more rigorous tests with better data than I had. And they have. By now, I am inclined (thought not 100% certain) to believe that ex-post-facto election fraud is not strongly suggested by the numerical evidence. Yet people seem inclined to stand by exit polling data as if it were sacred. In fact, we have many sound reasons for believing that flaws in exit polling could have played a substantial (perhaps even decisive) role in the discrepancy. For an excellent summary with both a deconstruction of "exit poll fundamentalism" and some rigorous tests of numerical patterns, see

My apologies to Steve Freeman (quoted by RFK Jr., among others, on the improbability of the outcome)--whose energetic and sincere attempts to analyze the discrepancy I still admire--but the analysis in the above link basically blows you out of the water.

All that said, why I like the idea of RFK Jr. keeping this story alive is how it also highlights the many ways that likely Kerry votes (especially Democrats in inner city areas) were systematically suppressed in so many different ways, in Ohio and elsewhere. It is really an old story, focusing as it often has in U.S. history on Black and/or poor voters. Longer lines, fewer machines, kicking people off voter rolls, people who move frequently (or have no fixed address at all) being denied the vote, etc.--interestingly, many of this brand of voter suppression would not show up in either the final tally OR in the exit polls. When you add all of it up (plus throw in a few truly bizarre and possibly illegal anomalies here and there), it could very well have thrown the election in favor of Bush. But not because we place blind faith in fallible exit polls: on the contrary, because of hard evidence from people who were actually turned away, patterned disparities in ease of voting (or likelihood of spoilage) in different places, and the like.