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10 November 2004


I had a little fish-in-the-barrel fun over coffee this morning with a David Corn article in the latest issue of The Nation. It's so intellectually shoddy that I was half-tempted to print it out just so that I could shred the pages to use as cage litter for my rats, but printer paper really isn't absorbent enough. Instead, I present highlights -- with patented Fiskolorization™!

I used red text to flag anonymous attribution -- instances of there are those who believe or the claim has been made or there is the issue of (Who believes? Who made the claim? For whom is this "issue" an issue?) In this category, too, are unquantified plurals -- "other critics argue" can mean "hundreds of other critics argue" or "two other critics argue." I also flagged an example of an intentionally ambiguous adjective: when Corn refers ominously to "partisan officials," it's plain from the surrounding context that he wants readers to think "right-wing partisans." Yet partisans can of course be Democrats as well as Republicans, and Corn provides no data to prove that fraud is more often the work of right-wingers than left-wingers. Hence, I see this as a variant of "anonymous attribution."

Blue text highlights examples of egregious CYA-ing, where Corn makes generous use of hypothetical constructions (e.g., fraud could have occurred, Are there grounds to suspect?) to protect himself from charges of idle rumor-mongering even as he's planting rumors.

A Stolen Election?
by David Corn

Before the vote-counting was done, the e-mails started arriving. The election's been stolen! Fraud! John Kerry won! In the following days, these charges flew over the Internet. The basic claim was that the early exit polls--which showed Kerry ahead of George W. Bush--were right; the vote tallies were rigged. Could this be? Or have ballot booths with electronic voting machines become the new Grassy Knoll for conspiracy theorists?
Anyone who questioned the integrity of the nation's voting system--before the election or after--has had good reason to do so... [I]n this election there were numerous reports of e-voting gone bad. Votes cast for one candidate were registered for another. [...] Were these errors statistically insignificant glitches that inevitably happen in any large system? "It gives us the uneasy feeling that we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg," Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is part of the Election Protection Coalition, told Reuters. [...]
Then there's the issue of who is running the show. Only a few companies manufacture electronic voting machines. They are not transparent. They do not use open-source code. [...] And across the country, oversight of voting is conducted by partisan officials. In Ohio, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican and conservative activist, oversaw the voting. On his watch, the polling place for Kenyon College was equipped with only two voting machines. Yet about 1,100 people--mostly students--wanted to vote there. These voters (and you can guess whom they preferred) had to wait up to nine hours. It doesn't require much cynicism to suspect that this was no accident.
But did something more foul than minor slip-ups and routine political chicanery occur? Those who say yes--at this point--are relying more on supposition than evidence. They cite the exit polls to claim the vote count was falsified to benefit Bush. The pollsters say they oversampled women, that their survey takers were not allowed to get close enough to the polls and that Kerry supporters may have been more willing to cooperate with the pollsters than Bush backers. Impossible, huffs pollster/consultant Dick Morris: "Exit polls are almost never wrong." But Morris argues that the faulty exit polls are not a sign the vote count was off but an indication that the pollsters deliberately produced pro-Kerry results "to try to chill the Bush turnout." (Talk about conspiracy theory.)

Let me just interrupt with a link to Morris' op-ed piece on the exit polls, where he uses the observation that "exit polls are rarely wrong" as a starting premise, to help justify his charge that the early numbers had been massaged (or fabricated outright) by Kerry supporters.

The screwy exit polls do raise questions, but they are not proof of sabotage. And left-of-center accusers have promoted contradictory theories. Many suggest Diebold and other vendors put in the fix via the paperless touch-screen machines. But other critics--including progressive talk-show host and author Thom Hartmann--also point to a spreadsheet created by an activist named Kathy Dopp that shows what she considers anomalous pro-Bush results in Florida counties that used optical-scan voting.[...] But Walter Mebane, a Cornell professor, and colleagues at Harvard and Stanford examined this allegation of fraud and concluded that it is "baseless." They note that the counties in question are mostly in the conservative Florida Panhandle and "have trended strongly Republican over the past twelve years."

[Here I snipped an entire paragraph in which Corn quotes a Democratic conspiracy theory at length, concedes that the theory is baseless, and then moves on without commenting on why he bothered bringing it up in the first place. --Th.M.]

Clear away the rhetoric, and what's mainly left are the odd early exit polls... troubling instances of bad electronic voting, and curious--or possibly curious--trends in Florida. This may be the beginning of a case; it is not a case in itself. Investigative reporter Robert Parry observes, "Theoretically, at least, it is conceivable that sophisticated CIA-style computer hacking... could have let George W. Bush's campaign transform a three-percentage-point defeat... into an official victory of about the same margin.[...]
The skeptics--correct or not in their claims of fraud--are right to be concerned in general about the vote-counting system. [...] Electronic voting ought to produce a paper trail that can be examined. There should be national standards for voting systems and for verifying vote tallies. And vote counters should be nonpartisan public servants, not secretive corporations or party hacks. The system ought to be so solid that no one would have cause even to wonder whether an election has been stolen.

Corn's sneaky coda is so clumsily transparent that it's almost cute: "Commonsense recommendation, another commonsense recommendation, yet another commonsense recommendation, INNUENDO!"

posted by Throbert | 11/10/2004 03:15:00 PM |
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