Wednesday, September 09, 2009

My really small role in the Coleman-Franken recount 

Late last month Townhall Magazine published an article by Ed Morrissey about the Coleman-Franken recount battle. In it I am quoted rather substantially about my role in the recount as the statistical expert for Coleman. I thought I should write some thoughts about it.

I was contacted initially by the Coleman legal team only on January 20th, a mere days before the contest phase of the recount was to start. I had just a week between that first call and the deposition -- in which I was supposed to look at the data, come up with an analysis, prep for a deposition process (for the first time) and go through it. I had all of two meetings with lawyers beforehand, both on the weekend.

What I was asked to provide was a demonstration that the rate at which ballots were rejected by county officials differed in a statistically significant way from each other. Rejection rates are normally the domain of binomial or Poisson distributions, and we economists don't use those distributions as often as the normal or Student's t. So I took some time re-familiarizing myself with those tests, looking up some books, digging up my old college text, and arrived at what was pretty obvious looking at the data casually -- those rejection rates didn't vary due to chance.

So it's a very compressed time period. Some people seemed to enjoy having fun picking apart the deposition, but to that I would just say the following:
  1. The decision to not call myself a statistician was mine. Any social scientist uses statistics, pretty much as an everyday activity. I don't use sampling theory daily, but something or other in statistics, sure. But what you might call a statistician would hold a PhD in statistics. I don't. The fellow we thought would be used by the Franken people didn't either -- he was a sociologist. But once some court accepts you, you're in, as best I can tell. He was, I had not before, and so the attack to exclude me was pretty standard procedure. (I taught college statistics for social sciences at the Claremont Colleges, and I teach economic forecasting at SCSU.)
  2. What I was initially asked to look at was to show the distribution of rates of rejected absentee ballots among counties was not random. I assumed what they were trying to prove was the Bush v Gore point that voters did not enjoy equal protection of their absentee ballots. The contest panel, and eventually the Minnesota Supreme Court, did not accept the precedence of Bush v Gore. Without that, there was no reason for me to testify based on what I had given the Coleman lawyers at that time. Where many, even Ed, imply that I was denied the ability to testify because I was not an expert, that is not what the court said. They were not interested in the Bush v Gore argument, thus they had no need to hear of me regardless of whether or not I was an expert. They had decided, in Ed's words, to " on individual ballots rather than categories and generalities." From their decision:
    The only question that can be decided in an election contest is which party received the highest number of legally cast votes, and therefore is entitled to receive the certificate of election. The Court will be reviewing all ballots presented according to the uniform standard contained in Minnesota Statues Chapter 203B. It is irrelevant whether there were irregularities between the counties in applying Minnesota Statutes � 203B.12, subd. 2. prior to this election contest. The Court does not believe Banaian's testimony would assist in determining the issues properly before it.
    And with that fact's irrelevance, I became irrelevant to the court. As I am not a lawyer, I have no opinion on their decision.
  3. At no point during the weekend before the deposition was I asked by the Coleman team whether I thought opening which ballots would lead to a Coleman victory. So when I told Ed my thoughts -- that had they opened the ballots I thought they could make an argument for, those from counties with excess rejection rates compared to the state average, they would not have enough net ballots to win -- that was my own speculation done actually the day AFTER I had been deposed. Had I gotten to the stand, based on what I knew when I was deposed, I had no answer. Based on what I did afterward, I did not think I could argue that even the statistical argument had any real chance of succeeding, particularly after the court had awarded Franken a net 87 additional votes in opening 351 ballots previously rejected. At that point, I thought, the game was up, though I admit to some cognitive dissonance over it -- I didn't really want to believe what I had found, and since I couldn't talk about it while the trial was going on, I pretty much buried that from my consciousness.
  4. My analysis of those counties where rejection rates were statistically significantly above the state average, was that an 'extra' 1,924 ballots had been rejected. If those were distributed as the recorded vote was, Coleman would have gotten 841 additional votes and Franken 737 additional votes (the remainder to Dean Barkley and the other candidates.) But that called for an "add factor" -- you can't pick the ballots that were rejected wrongly based on a spreadsheet, which is all they gave me. And as I say, the court rejected that idea.
So to summarize: I did an analysis very quickly for a question the court didn't interest itself in, and when the Franken campaigned asked to keep me out, they ruled my testimony irrelevant. But had they asked me if I thought Coleman won, I would have said "probably not, based on the data."

Let me close with an agreement with Ed's premise for his article, which was butchered by the Townhall editorial staff when they chose the title. Franken did not steal an election. They played hard, harder than the Coleman team. As I said to someone after the deposition, it's one thing to take a knife to a gun fight, it's another thing to be the knife. Perhaps I was a fallback plan they came to late in the process; far be it from me to criticize the Coleman strategy when I know so little about it. But it appeared that after the decision to reject statistical argumentation -- which Ed argues should have been known to the Coleman lawyers based on the Rossi-Gregoire recount -- that the energy of the Coleman argument was lost, at least at that stage.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Senator Coleman Conference Call 

I was involved in the recount of the MN US Senate election as documented here and here as well as other posts. The last step of the legal process is the trial that will begin this Monday, January 26.

Why a trial?

The inconsistencies in the recount were mind-boggling. The Franken team pushed for acceptance of votes that do not appear to be valid. That is, the Franken team pushed until they got ahead, then said, "We need to quit." Well, we don't. Had Senator Coleman been ahead now, the Franken team would have eagerly gone to court. So, let's go to court and get this settled.

MN law states that voting is not a residential right but rather a citizen's responsibility. When someone's vote is ignored or counted twice, that action disenfranchises a legal citizen's vote. The questionable practices and procedures of the recount can be summarized as follows:
1 - Votes were counted twice (originals and duplicates)
2 - There was no application of universal, consistent standards handling absentee ballots.
3 - Votes that cannot be found, should not be counted; a recount is a recount of votes from Election Day.
4 - A general statement that the law was applied unequally.
The statistical odds, covered here by King, of so many "found" votes going 100% for Al Franken is abysmally small. Why? What was really happening?

I've been actively involved in elections for three cycles. Our law and procedures need to be tightened. This race hopefully will drive home the need for IDs to vote and a checking of all voters as to whether or not they are citizens.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Why we keep questioning the recount 

Suppose you are an election official in a precinct. You are collecting ballots with a machine that measures people as they come through the door. At one point your machine breaks down. You replace the machine with a backup, but you fail to turn that machine on for awhile. Later it is turned on, and you record your totals.

Later there is a recount, and in the process you discover the error by finding the extra, uncounted ballots. Naturally, since they appear by all appearances to be valid votes, you count them and include them in your totals.

This is not fiction. Ballots were thus discovered in Maplewood, Precinct 6 during the recount process for the Coleman-Franken race.* Folks at the Uptake who reported the incident noted in that article that the Election Night returns in that precinct favored Franken, 45.4% to 39.2%. If the 171 ballots are like the remainder, you'd expect 45.4% of the 171 to go to Franken and 39.2% to go to Coleman, which would give Al 78 and Norm 67. You can just imagine how bummed Norm would be; that finding is expected to cost him 11 votes.

Visiting the precinct results, however, we find Franken added 91 votes from that precinct and Coleman 54. He's out 37 votes, not 11. The Coleman campaign cannot believe its luck.

How likely is this to happen? To understand this I use the heuristic developed during the Rossi-Gregoire recount battle.
...assume that we have a large bag of marbles, they are either red (Rossi votes) or blue (Gregoire votes), there are a total of 856,963 (505,836 blue + 351,127 red) marbles in the bag (it's a BIG bag of marbles) - these numbers are inclusive of the 'new' ballots discovered (336 apparently), or 'enhanced' during the process.

These marbles are uniformly distributed in the bag - like people, they are all mixed up together and there is no formulaic method to tell where one of the 336 new ballots came from or what precincts or demographics characterize those ballots that required 'enhancing'.

We don't know anything about 171 people who showed up at the time in Maplewood when the machine was failed. There isn't any reason to assume they should be distributed differently than the 1100 or so who had their votes already counted. So for this the binomial distribution should work as a method of asking the question "how likely is it, if the bag is 45% blue marbles (Franken), that in a pull of 171 marbles from the bag I would get 91 blue marbles?"

The answer is 0.6%, or about 168 to 1. That's about on a par with the odds you got in March 2008 on the Tampa Bay Rays winning the World Series. The Rays didn't beat those odds. Franken did. As we'll see, he won lots of longshots.


Now that is purely a forensic exercise. Critics of this piece will say that "well, you can't prove what happened in that precinct." And I can't. I'm not saying it's fraud. You can't tell that from this type of analysis. I'm just saying it's pretty unusual to get that draw of ballots in that particular precinct. If there was no other story, I would probably shrug it off as a curiosity.

But because the race is so close and because there have been other stories, I wondered: Could we use that type of analysis elsewhere? I haven't had a chance yet to drill down to the precinct level across the state. But the 87 counties of Minnesota make an interesting level of analysis. Overall the recount added 1572 votes for the two top candidates. You are right to wonder: How did they miss so many ballots? Wasn't there doublecounting? We'll get to that in a bit. But the idea is that sometimes machines miss ballots, and sometimes they get misread. Machines do make mistakes; if they didn't we'd never need a hand recount.

The added totals were 1056 to Franken and 516 to Coleman (total 1572; I'm not talking about any vote changes for Barkley and the rest.) 786 of these came from the dreaded "fifth pile" of wrongly rejected absentee ballots that the two campaigns agreed to.** The Coleman campaign is fighting for more. Given that those ballots broke 481-305 to Franken, again in a race where you'd think they'd go about 50-50, one might hope that the remaining ones, currently frozen out and awaiting adjudication, might lean towards Coleman.

As to the remainder, they still broke Franken's way 575 to 211. That's pretty staggering. Just think about that a minute. You flip a coin 786 times and it comes up heads 575 times. Would you think it's a fair coin? I took the post-election review county totals (which had Coleman +215) and the final recount totals from Monday (which, skipping the absentees, had Coleman -49), and used the same calculation as I just did for Maplewood P-6. The larger the number of ballots the better this calculation is, as the random draw story I'm using depends on not appreciably changing the proportion of Franken and Coleman votes pre- and post-recount. You can view the spreadsheet here.

Some counties cannot be used this way because the manual recount showed fewer votes; it's hard to undraw a marble from a bag. Those changes weren't too large, as you can see on the spreadsheet. Franken lost nine votes and Coleman seven in Washington County (Franken had 44% of the two-party vote); Franken lost ten and Coleman five in Clay County (Franken 48% of two-party share.)

Of the remainder (all county percentages are for two-party vote share), here are the five with the largest impact that added at least ten votes:
Five others had very low randomness probabilities: Cass; Kandiyohi; Pine; Polk; and Sherburne; but the changes there were six or less. In short, the result came from changes in three very Democratic counties that are implausibly tilted towards Franken. One of them by chance? Maybe. All three? About as likely as your next two NBA champions being the Timberwolves and Oklahoma City. Franken hit more than one longshot.


So where did it all go wrong for Norm? Did the Coleman campaign do a poorer job on its challenges than the Franken campaign? One hopes not. I could go back and look at the challenges for patterns and I might, but the randomness assumption is harder to hold for challenges.

Could it be this just shows that the larger cities have higher error rates in counting votes than the other areas? That is, could this all be fine and I'm just getting fooled by randomness, as it were? Yes, I suppose that's possible, though given the vitriol hurled at anyone who cast aspersions on Twin Cities election officials, it would be quite an admission. Should Secretary of State Ritchie initiate a review of why Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis counties had such large errors in counting? You'll forgive me if I don't hold my breath.

There is also the disturbing question about absentee ballots. Why did they break so badly against Coleman? Did the Franken campaign do a better job of kicking the Coleman-rich absentee ballots to the litigation phase than the Coleman campaign did? I don't know. One way to get at this might be to take the absentee ballot data by precinct, compare it to the vote shares in those precincts and see which were which.

Or it may be that, as I mentioned earlier, the challenge process favored Franken either by aggressiveness, legal skill, dumb luck, or something more nefarious. We may look at that process too. There are many places to look. But the point of this article is simple -- one has to wonder whether the recount got the vote right. I suspect it's the question nobody will really ever answer.

*--I have wondered how the election officials missed this on election night. Why didn't someone reconcile the count of votes on the tape to the count of signatures? It's not important to my story, so I've skipped over this. Maybe someone already has an explanation.

**--On our radio show Saturday, Sarah Janecek pointed, inter alia, to that decision as one of the things that will be addressed in the contest phase of the recount before a judicial panel. The datum offered might be evidence of the effect of that decision, in allowing one side to skew the absentee ballots. But I would not say more about this unless I knew the overall distribution of absentee balloting.

*** -- UPDATE (11:15am): Gary Gross points out to me that in the Times chat, someone mentioned the possibility that the ballot errors are due to senior citizens "that overwelmingly voted for Franken." Well, no. Over 65s broke 43-42 for Coleman, according to a STrib exit poll.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Latest on Coleman Recount 

Yes, I know, we're tired of the recount but Minnesotans are entitled to fair election results. Far too many questionable practices have occurred during the recount. A good summary of the recount problem is this statement:
The state Supreme Court ordered that Democratic challenger Al Franken, the Coleman campaign, and local election officials all had to agree an absentee ballot should be included, before that vote could be counted. This effectively gave each party a veto power over which ballots would be accepted.
As I said here, the inconsistencies in this recount are rampant. Minnesota's Supreme Court justice, Alan Page, was one of two justices who objected to the default veto power as instructed above. His dissent included the following statement: "The court has abdicated its role as the defender of the fundamental right to vote."

What the Coleman Campaign is hoping for is a consistent method for identifying these ballots without double counting them. It seems as though Judge Page at least understands the problem.

It is my wish the same occur. Then we MUST look at MN Election Day procedures. It is time to require a government photo id to vote and insist on consistent election official training. There simply is too much at stake.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Coleman Press Conference 

This afternoon at 3:00 Senator Norm Coleman gave a press conference.

There is much at stake here. While Mr. Franken may think he won, the recall has raised many, many questions,regarding the: clarity of the beginning recount rules; training of city and county clerks; and consistency of the application of rules during the recount.

Senator Coleman thanked his supporters and all who helped with the recount. Then he explained why the lawsuit is being filed. The certification process is not complete. Because of controversial actions that occurred in the recount process, MN must go through this final step. More specifically, the following questionable irregularities must be resolved:
1 - Some votes that were counted twice (original ballots and duplicate ballots)
2 - Some precincts had more ballots than the number of people who had voted in this election race
3 - The inconsistency of the counting and discarding of absentee ballots
4 - A desire to make sure the votes that are valid, are counted.
As the Senator said, speed is not the first objective. It is far better to get it right than rush through a process. In a democracy, it is important that all parties obey the law. It is also important that the law be applied as fairly and justly as possible. Fairness to MN voters should take precedence over "getting it done."

Senator Coleman is a quality individual. His grace and composure came through in this press conference. As he stated, "No one is indispensable." This is true, Senator, but some of you are less dispensable than others. Your class was very apparent this afternoon.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why I'm not watching the recount 

Polinaut has a good explanation:

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of challenged ballots that have been withdrawn from both campaigns. We're not certain if those ballots will be dedicated to Coleman, to Franken or to the Other pile. The Secretary of State's Office is working to process the withdrawn ballots and redeclare the vote to the call made by the local election official during the recount.

What makes things tougher is that the campaigns are now restoring some challenges that they withdrew earlier. They're doing this because they know that the board is acceptable to certain challenges. They are also withdrawing challenges that they know have no chance of being upheld.

So stop watching the recount, Leo! That's what they pay the lawyers for. I know some of the rulings are odd -- John Lott has used some pictures to show us how the count is going, though the results on the STrib website seem to get changed regularly -- but until we know how the withdrawn challenges are being added back into the totals, we have no bloody idea where the count is. Forgive my flippant-ness here; real-time data just tends to be real messy and there's a tendency to be fooled by randomness.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

When Democrats Lose, Well, Sort Of........ 

In 2005, the Republican candidate for governor in WA won the "first" election but the vote was close enough that a mandatory recount was done. The Republican won the first recount, the next three recouts but the Democrats didn't quit until they found some ballots in a couch. Yep, a couch. The Democrat finally won with 136 (?) votes. After monnths, they �found� enough votes: homeless people claiming residency at government buildings, strange people voting�. Result, the democrat finally �won.� Sound familiar?

We�re seeing the same thing here. Mr. Ritchie now wants all those rejected absentee ballots revalued. Seems that all those city and county clerks and judges trained by the Secretary of State�s office couldn�t do their job right the first time. Is this "do-over" because Mr. Ritchie�s candidate is losing? If so, he undermines the very workers he trained for the election.

Sure he says he wants to be fair. Face it, if he did want to be fair, he wouldn�t undermine the election system by demanding that the very people he trained redo their jobs. Just how sloppy does he think they were? Ask this question � if the Republican candidate were behind, would these absurd gyrations be occurring? Would the majority of "found" votes have gone in Norm's favor, against all statistical probabilities? I doubt it.

Update Dec. 10 - appears some county legal groups refused to recount these already considered ballots; others are showing a meager 50+ in the "5th" pile. Point remains - most judges and clerks know what they are doing.

Update Dec. 13 - Is Franken getting what he wants from the canvassing board. If 133 missing ballots can be counted for Franken, the 9 votes for Senator Coleman from Lakeville's Precinct 10 should be counted. At least Lakeville HAD the ballots. The Lakeville discrepency was between originals and the duplicates run through the machines on Election Day. The duplicates were all there; one envelope of originals was missing. Franken got his way here, too - only the originals were counted. At one point in this process, only the ballots that went through the machine were to be counted. This changed during the recount. I know, I was there.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Recount: Propaganda Smokescreen by Democrats 

Democrat US Senator Majority Leader, Harry Reid said, "�As the process moves forward, Minnesota authorities must ensure that no voter is disenfranchised.� In an accompanying statement, Reid said �A citizen�s right to have his or her vote counted is fundamental in our democracy.� These statements indicate that the Democrats will use any words to make an empty case that AL Franken won the MN US Senate race, against Norm Coleman.

" voter is disenfranchised" is in complete opposition to the behavior I witnessed at the recount in Dakota County, MN's third largest county. I was a floor lead the entire recount process - one where more than 226,000 votes were recounted by hand. There were a few problems - some of which will be discussed in later posts. For now, I will address two:

MN has electronic voting whereby voters identify their choice by filing in an oval next to the name of the candidate. This is done with a special ink pen provided by the precinct or with pencil. Both can be read by the voting machine. Extremely questionable challenges included the following:
1 - When a spot no larger than a pencil dot, a pen rest most likely, appeared in a Franken oval, even when Barkley or Coleman ovals were totally filled in, the Democrats (DFL) claimed "vote for Franken; voter intent unclear; a non-Coleman/Barkley vote." This was their excuse for a challenge.

2 - If there was a stray mark anywhere on the ballot, a pen scribble, an "X" when all other voting marks were completed ovals, the DFL claimed that these were "identifying marks" and the ballot should be discounted.
This type of irresponsible behavior was led by Democrats. After multiple requests by the Dakota County recount election official to back off these kinds of challenges (and all requests were simply ignored by the DFL), the Dems were berated publicly more than once - to no avail. Result? The Coleman team had to begin to make the same type of challenges in self-defense; otherwise, an unexpected, adverse ruling could potentially lead to a disastrous swing.

If the Democrats were serious about disenfranchisement (as Mr. Reid insists) these ballots never would have been challenged. It would have been responsible of the DFL to direct their observers to use common sense and honesty in making their challenges. As it was, DFL observers refused to change their tactics. Theoretically all these "challenged" ballots could be accepted and voters would be disenfranchised. My belief, based on Dakota County and talking to peers in other counties, the vast majority of the so-called 5000+ challenged ballots will be counted as valid votes.

When you look at behavior, the empty Democratic rhetoric of "count every ballot" becomes "make every possible challenge to try to disenfranchise Coleman voters while counting every Franken ballot," whether a legitimate vote or not.

Don't be fooled by the blatant propaganda.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lengthening the game #mnrecount 

Gary Gross, in his canvassing board liveblog says the Minnesota State Canvassing Board has voted to not consider rejected absentee ballots. This was to be expected of course; Gary notes Chief Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson saying the board is not an adjudicative body. This was merely a prelude to the court case in which the Franken campaign will seek to get more ballots counted.

But the board decided at the end to provide some guidance to county election officials. In short, if an absentee ballot was rejected without there being a reference to why it was rejected in state statute, it was to be placed in a "fifth pile" (there are four reasons to reject an absentee ballot, listed here.) Itasca County (48-38 Franken) has gone so far as to identify three absentee ballots that appear to be fifth-pilers, and proposes to reconsider them on Monday. Since this appears to be extra-legal, it is possible that one of the two campaigns (hard to say which at this point -- may be in court this weekend to stop that process until a judge decides if state statute permits this. One is entitled to wonder why the three ballots come up now -- wasn't that the process contemplated by the law to happen between Election Day and when counties certified their results to the state? It reminds me of trying to undo the ending of the Pittsburgh-San Diego game a couple weeks ago, not least of which because I had $20 on the Steelers to cover. At some point the end of the game is the end of the game, but some people always think the line is fixed.

For the game here in Minnesota, the decision today means, most likely, we're headed for a second overtime in a courtroom, soon.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Coleman Recount - From an Insider's View 

Lots of hype that Franken is gaining, Coleman is losing. The left is drooling at the mouth for another socialist Democrat upset. Well, cool your jets - it's not over.

I am actively participating in the recount of a major county. We have had a few problems but nothing that will cause an "upset." The numbers posted for Franken's supposed gain in our county are simply wrong. If your source is the Strib or the Secretary of State website, I would urge a substan-
tial amount of caution because their numbers versus the reality on the ground are different.

I could argue details here but the public numbers change daily so I won't. What I will say is that Coleman is still ahead statewide, he will remain ahead statewide, and his win will prevail.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Does the size of a typo matter? #mnrecount 

John Lott has commented on the StarTribune article that I discussed earlier this week.
The fact that correcting typos increased Franken�s count by 459 votes (not counting Coleman�s lost votes) and Obama�s by 106 doesn�t prove fraud. Indeed, the Star Tribune might still be right in its claims that election officials made mistakes because they were tired.

But my point was a simple one: Why did the �typo� corrections increase Franken�s total so much more than any other candidate�s? Indeed, so much more than all the other races for the presidency, Congress, and statehouse combined. The Star Tribune�s response was to deny the claim was true.
I also got this response from John to my earlier post in which I didn't think the typos were necessarily the result of fraud.
It is not simply the direction of the change, but also the size of the change that you might want to take into account in figuring out the odds. You are obviously right if you are looking at the direction of the change and the odds that they all go in the same direction, but if you looked at the odds that you would have changes of the sizes observed here going in the same direction, the odds of that are exceptionally small. That said, people do win the lottery sometimes and this might be one of those times for Franken.
I've been puzzling about that for a day. Can one think about the 'probability of a typo'? I looked at a spreadsheet that measured changes in tallies by precinct from the Wednesday morning to the end of Monday Nov. 10 (pre-machine audit, but after all counties had checked their figures and reported in.) There are 4130 precincts in my sample. I got these counts:
So the probability of a change -- typo or miscount or whatever -- could be seen as the total precinct-level changes for any of the three candidates (15+5+29+10+37+11=107) divided by three times the number of precincts (since they can each make three changes. That gives a probability of .008636, or 0.86%. There are 1.15% of Franken precinct totals that were changed. We got twelve more Franken changes than we would expect and fifteen fewer Barkley changes. How significant is that? And notice that up changes are far more likely than down changes. I wonder how likely that is. I don't have a model for that in my head. If I thought it was random and used a binomial distribution, I'd put the probability of 48 or more errors at about 1.9%, or around 50 to 1 against. The chance of having fifteen or fewer errors (as was Barkley's case) is 0.3%. Coleman's data, at least on the counting of typos, appears pretty normal even though his total went down.

But John's opinion seems to be that changes in the hundreds column should count for more. I'm unclear how to model that or why it is so. It seems to me a typo distributes randomly across the places. But we also know that the at least a few of the people who write these numbers down care about the outcome, which I think is some of the claims being made here (not necessarily mine), so that treating their scribblings as random events is also probably a bad assumption.

And at that point I'm kind of stuck. If the typos are non-random, I'm not sure how to use statistics to solve them, and I'll let other people try to figure that out.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"The dog ate my homework eleven days ago..." #mnrecount 

"...and I had more important things to do than re-write it."
Minnesota uses an optical-scan balloting system that makes the entire process more secure. Not only does this allow for voters to catch unusable ballots before they leave as well as to automate the counting process, it removes human error from the vote reporting to county election centers. The counties of Minnesota spent a lot of money on these systems and explicitly selected the modem option for that purpose.

The machines have wireless modems that have to be pre-programmed with a specific IP address to securely transmit those results directly to the election centers. For some reason, the machines had the wrong IP address entered on the cards. The cards would have needed to be reprogrammed to correct the error, and with a few hundred precincts in Hennepin (which includes Minneapolis), that would have taken a significant effort. However, with eleven days to accomplish this, the failure to take corrective action for a national election is mystifying. The source to whom I spoke said that county officials were aware of this by October 23rd in a meeting with elections officials, and possibly earlier.

Why would Hennepin County refuse to correct such a fundamental failure of the elections process eleven days ahead of what everyone expected to be a close Senate race, let alone a presidential election? To answer this, I spoke with Michelle Desjardin, the elections manager for Hennepin County. She said that the county did know of the failure at about October 23rd, but that they didn�t have enough time to reprogram the 860+ memory cards and meet statutory deadlines for public testing � seven days in advance of the elections.

But here�s the strange part. Desjardin confirmed that the electronic transmission system worked in the primaries. The cards did not get reprogrammed, and the destination IP address did not change from the primaries. There was no reason why the transmission cards should have required reprogramming at all. Desjardin acknowledged that the failure of all 860+ machines to connect was a mystery, but that they have higher priority statutory deadlines to meet before they can begin investigating the failure.
Here's a report indicating how much money has been spent on a system that seems to not work, and that isn't getting fixed. The Wall Street Journal's editorial page also weighs in.
The Coleman team is demanding the tapes from the voting machines on election night, and that's the least [Secretary of State Mark] Ritchie can do. The Secretary of State should also investigate miraculous discoveries like the "forgotten" 32 car ballots. (also from Hennepin County --kb) He needs to show voters, the press and the Coleman team that he's running a transparent process that focuses on previously counted votes, rather than changing the rules after the election is over.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

What are the odds of Sen. Franken? 

In a comment on Janet's post, Ironman points out a statistical study of the King County recount and its effect on the gubernatorial race in Washington, where we saw a recount reverse a previously announced result. Ironman provides a calculator to test the results of this change from the recount which, it is argued, is just a resampling of the ballots. (Indeed, there's a test audit being done of the Coleman-Franken vote already, using 202 of the more than 4000 precincts in the state, which is simply part of the state's quality control.) The error rate on machine read ballots is reported to be about 0.2%, or two in a thousand. That's why we recount with a margin under 0.5%.

The calculator works for a binomial distribution. What complicates this is the presence of Dean Barkley as a holder of 15% of the ballots that are being sampled. So it's drawing from a bag with three different colored balls, not two different colors. (I'm sure there were third-party candidates in the Gregoire Rossi '04 race, but I doubt it would have made much difference.) If you assume no change in the Barkley votes, however, you still get a less than .005% chance that a recount would flip this election to Franken, even with that .2% error rate. If the erroroneous ballots are random and the population of ballots are divided roughly fifty-fifty, the probability is like flipping a coin say 5800 times and getting 236 more heads than tails. As you flip the coin more, the probability converges on 0.5 quite quickly. But again, that makes some assumptions about the distribution of the errors regarding the inclusion of Barkley, and to be blunt I'm not a good enough statistician to think that part through. Ironman, back to work!

And to the rest of you, spreadsheets please if you have running totals for any county. You can potentially look for the problems with recounting that with a good formula and those sheets.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

MN US Senate Race: A "Fix" Looks Underway 

Why are all post election revisions to the vote count coming out in favor of Democrat Al Franken? It is no coincidence that MN's Secretary of State is a blatant, partisan Democrat?

Minnesotans deserve elections handled with integrity. Count the votes accurately. Minnesota should not aspire to be known as the Washington state of the Midwest. This morning the difference was 725. It's now down to 236.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Third parties and undervotes 

We noticed on the air last night that in both CD3 and CD6, the Independence Party candidates were doing better than expected. Bob Collins argues that this helps Republicans. Interestingly, however, the final StarTribune exit polling shows that an even percentage would have voted for Franken or Coleman had Barkley not run in the race. (I don't think that asks the right question, because there would have been a different IP candidate had Barkley not run. The question seems to suppose no IP candidate.) Barkley voters supported Obama 52-39; 14% of Coleman voters voted for the President-elect.

Collins also notes that there were perhaps 25,000 voters who simply did not vote that race. Like commenters, I'm surprised there are not more undervotes. That's the kind of stuff that gave us hanging chads. The recount battle will be grist for the Final Word mill for the next few weeks.

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Monday, November 03, 2008

The Coleman-Franken contract 

Price for Minnesota Senate Race at

My friend Tony Garcia and I have been watching this contract on InTrade with fascination today, and tonight I'm practically watching every trade.
For the technical broker side of me, here is a little more analysis on the MN Senate Contract. For Franken the first price floor is at 48.0 with an almost equally strong ceiling at 55.0. Going below 46.0 would take an increase in volume of almost 400%. For Coleman the strong price floor is at 47.0 but would only take less than a 200% increase in today's volume to reach that. There equilibrium in volume on the price ceiling is at 85.0. This all means that there is not much confidence in either of them losing, there is some resistance to the idea that Franken will run away with the race while there is not similar resistance to the possibility that Coleman can win early. So, the only thing that will be worth staying up for tomorrow night (the only suspense) will be the MN Senate race and the MO President race. MO is important only because it has gone to the winner in each
election since 1960 (12 in a row).

Tony and I read the InTrade results as being very pro-Obama, unlike the latest reports from Fox's Carl Cameron. �The Missouri contract has strongly moved towards McCain lately, which might account for the deployment of Palin to the state today.

Worth noting: �there's no action on Barkley. �It's a two-person race, and voting for Dean is as if you didn't vote at all in that race. �Exit question (to borrow an Allahpundit bit): �Has the loss of many US traders due to UIGEA caused InTrade to be less predictive? �Chris Masse is instructive: �Don't oversell.�

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

On the Road with Norm Coleman 

US Senator Norm Coleman is continuing his visits across our great state. Last week he was travelling with Governor Pawlenty. Today, he met more voters in Congressional District 2 (CD 2) (where I am the Republican chair). At every location, Norm is greeted warmly and supported. He meets the people and talks one on one with as many as possible. Crowds are large and attendees arrive early. They enjoy the camaraderie and seeing a US Senator in a very informal, comfortable setting.

I've heard his basic speech a few times yet every talk includes a unique point or two. He brings in the local flavor where appropriate - the Mississippi River towns always hear of their past and role in the present and future. Specific businesses, vital to local economies, are mentioned and supported.

Today, he was traveling with MN's Congressman, John Kline, a 25 year Marine veteran. Norm's speech focused on respect and integrity - for ourselves as well as others. Both Norm and John have these traits in abundance. Unfortunately Norm's opponent, does not. Far too many Democrats show so little class but Franken's attacks on Norm's family have reached the point of disgust. Then again, what do we expect from a man whose "humor" debases women, Catholics, and other Christians? Frankly, not much.

Minnesotans support Senator Coleman's goals: the federal government should live within its budget; energy independence; affordable health insurance without the government running it; security for ourselves and our progeny; judges who support the US Constitution - the basis of all our freedoms.

Senator Coleman has solutions; works with others who have solutions; he has fixed problems and will continue to do so for us. He respects the WWII generation who fought for our freedom and he truly understands that we must keep the opportunities of freedom.

He is sincere, honest, open and real. He's simply got to win because there's not another like him.

From Monday's event in Farmington:

and the ubiquitous, solemn, serious DFL tracker.


Friday, October 24, 2008

SCSU poll: Obama up 5, Coleman up 9 

(h/t: Michael)

The SCSU Survey, directed by some of our faculty but managed by SCSU students, reports that Barack Obama leads John McCain in the state by five percent. The poll had 509 voters. SC Times reported Larry Schumacher reports that the poll included cell phones (the report says 130) for the first time, but that they did not screen for registered or likely voters "because of Minnesota�s same-day voter registration laws." �The report shows that there's little difference in either margin when you use a registered screen, voted in 2006 screen, etc. �Read the survey for the evidence. �I find that result -- the screen didn't matter -- the most interesting part of the survey.

Interestingly, the party ID questions showed initially a 30-24 split for Democrats with 37 percent not identifying with either party. �When pushed by the surveyer, the party ID gap for Democrats widens to 42-34. �

The survey's margin of error at this size is +/- 4.6%.

I know one of the survey directors, Department of Political Science chair Prof. Steve Frank, reads this blog from time to time, so questions you put here may be answered by him rather than me. �

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Norm Coleman Express in Congresional District 2 

This afternoon, US Senator Norm Coleman visited a number of locations in MN's Second Congressional District. Stops included Eagan, Apple Valley, Savage and Chanhassen.

As the Republican Chair of the Second District, I've attended many of these functions. At all events, Senator Coleman has come across as real, honest and sincere in his views. He's a public servant responsible to all Minnesotans. He knows the local history of the towns and often tells a story related to it. He mixes easily with all attendees, answers questions, does all these events free form - no notes, period. The DFL has put a film tracker on Norm - a young guy who tries to get his camera into every single conversation Senator Coleman has with a constituent. While this is legal, to me, the behavior is rude, very rude.

Senator Coleman understands we need energy, all kinds. He knows we can produce it in environmentally safe ways because Americans have designed many of the approaches to cleanly extract minerals. He knows we need to stop sending $700,000,000,000 to nations that want to destroy us.

He believes that we Americans can overcome anything: "Hope conquers fear." It does - we've been given so much doom and gloom for so long too many Americans are banking on a nebulous "hope" that will tie our nation in knots for decades. Norm understands what is at stake. While I have my disagreements with him (and I have been vocal about them), he is the best candidate.

As he said, the best time to drill was 10 years ago, the second best time is now; the best time to build nuclear plants was 10 years ago, the second best time is now. He knows it's time we get going forward - he's the guy. Support him.


Friday, September 26, 2008

A Visit with Laurie Coleman 

Today, Laurie Coleman (U.S. Senator Norm Coleman's wife) stopped by to visit some of our friends and neighbors. I've met Laurie before, heard her talk but it's something special when politicians (or their spouses) come to your home. She discussed raising kids in a family where dad is dedicated to public service. Tips: when little, keep the kids from seeing the trash the opposition throws at their dad; hide the papers; turn off the television. As they got older, Laurie worked with them to help them deal with opponents who know no bounds on attacking you, your family, etc.

She talked about this campaign in particular - anyone following the current US Senate campaign has seen some of the horrible attacks on Norm Coleman and it is expected to get worse, a lot worse. The Democrats have set aside over $6,000,000 to attack Norm. Then she took questions.

Sometimes you wonder if these kind of events are valuable. They are - some attendees were not sure about voting for Norm. After hearing Laurie today, they realized, "Hey, these people are like us. I'll support Norm."

I've watched Norm in small groups over the past few weeks. He really cares about Minnesotans, values, the US, kids, education, and MN history. I have my problems with some of his positions, and I call his office to voice my concerns. But the bottom line is this: he's no millionaire, he did not marry money, he works hard, and yes, he does care.

Continuing disclosure: As I have noted in the past, I am the elected Chair of Minnesota's Second Congressional District Republicans, a volunteer position in Congressman John Kline's district.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

My opponent gave you stuff 

A few nights ago I found my name in a post by fellow St. Cloud blogger "Political Muse", noting my opposition to sports stadia and wondering how I can square that with supporting Sen. Coleman's bid for re-election. I've met the senator and asked some tough questions of him in blogger conference calls, but I didn't know him as a mayor and thus never had the opportunity or incentive to ask his view of stadium subsidies. I did comment on Muse's post that in view of Franken's writings in Playboy I would find it much easier to vote for the re-election of Coleman.

Michael reports this morning that the Franken campaign has gone so far as to release an ad deriding Coleman's support of building the Xcel Energy Center.

I find the Franken campaign's choice odd. The reason these stadia keep getting public dollars is because the public believes somehow -- mistakenly, in the view of economists, but this is hardly the first time the public has chosen to ignore the economists -- that they are of benefit to a city and would be underprovided by private financing alone. Pointing out that Norm took from Peter to give to Paul is hardly a way to gain Paul's support in voting against Norm. There may be, there might be, a few Peters who are persuaded by the ad, but if that were true these stadium deals would not keep gaining passage. And support for hockey is enough in this state that even outstate arenas like St. Cloud and Bemidji draw public funding.

I wish there was a spokesman for the economists' view of public financing of sports stadia, but I don't think Al Franken is the right guy for that job either.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Sign here, buddy 

I don't watch the Sopranos, but I get this:
An ad ran yesterday in the StarTribune from the Minnesotans for Employee Freedom, for which I am a member of its steering committee. The ads have drawn some attention from the press this week as the first issue ad in Minnesota.

It's worth thinking a bit more about this issue: What is wrong with card check? I got a card to join AARP recently; I didn't have to fill out a secret ballot on whether AARP could represent me or not. But unions are not voluntary organizations. If 50% plus one of my fellow employees sign a card for a union, the rest of us are compelled to make it our agent for the terms and conditions of our employment. We would give away a great deal of control to our fellow workers if they were permitted to simply get 50%+1 of employees to sign cards. I would argue that a private ballot in voting for giving someone agency rights over our voluntary association with an employer is higher-stakes than our vote in a Presidential election (since the group is so much smaller, our ballot has a much higher probability of being decisive.) You might wonder why unions would be opposed to secret ballots; my answer is "cui bono?"

As I pointed out last month, and as the new ad makes clear, voting in public is coercive. Often union representatives have access to personal information about employees in a shop they want to organize, including home addresses and phone numbers, by which they can repeatedly visit and hope for a signature in a weak moment. Consider a couple of examples. From the Man Show, a spoof was done to get women to sign a petition that would "end women's suffrage." Of course, you hear that word and if not careful think "suffering" and what woman wouldn't want to end suffering? The result is, they just signed a petition to give up their right to vote.

The other is from Penn&Teller's Bullshit program, which is a petition to get dihydrogen monoxide banned. Sounds like awful stuff, until Teller draws for you what it is. Passion overcomes reason when someone is jamming a clipboard or a card in your face asking "only" for your signature.
Remember, nobody gets to talk to you when the fellow with the card comes to visit. EFCA says that employers will be found guilty of violating the National Labor Relations Act if they should interfere with a card check drive. Interfering could be anything including signs or pamphlets advising against signing cards. This after that employee and employer had already entered into a voluntary agreement. The choice is asymmetric -- laws make it much harder to remove an existing union than to create a new one. Should that agreement be abrogated by Johnny Sack with a clipboard?

UPDATE: I had not seen until someone commented on it the "Reality Check" by Pat Kessler. Kessler is misleading on two points.
The bill that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken supports does not eliminate the secret ballot election. Workers still have the right to hold one but labor unions say the new option gives employers less control.
We've cited what the bill says, and we're happy that Kessler agrees that Franken supports HR 800/S 1041. But unions have a strong preference for card check -- which they can only get by agreement with the employer currently. EFCA removes the ability of the employer to negotiate after the cards reach 50%+1. The National Right to Work Legal Foundation has analyzed all union elections and card checks since a case was decided in favor of employees having access to information from their employers. Over 250 were done by card check since November 2007 (basically, a six month period; the last data I saw had about 2500 elections a year by 2005.) As it is, unions win a majority of elections when they are held, 57% between 2001 and 2005. According to data from the liberal Center for Economic Policy Research, perhaps a quarter of all workers organized were through card check. But obviously that's not enough because...
You can agree or disagree with the motive of the bill, but the effect is that it would make it easier to form a union. That's why labor unions want it so badly. Union membership is plummeting.
Unions are not entitled to a share of the labor force. As the traditional manufacturing sectors have declined and as service sector jobs become more high-tech and professional, it is only reasonable that union membership would decline. Union membership is also declining in Sweden, hardly a bastion of free market capitalism. Kessler misleads by implying that employers in the US have been more successful in reducing unionism against the wishes of their workers. There's no evidence that would support that claim.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Finally - Senator Coleman - YES 

The mantra of conservatives and other reasonable Americans is now: "Drill here, drill now, pay less." To address our energy snafu, our Republican Senator, Norm Coleman has introduced a bill that makes very good sense.

SB 3126 includes the following, energy independent points:
1 - Drill off the continental shelf for oil.
2 - Tax credits for nuclear energy.
3 - Funding and credits for alternative sources.
We've seen the results of the 40-year partnership of the Democrats and environmentalists:
1 - Dependency for oil on enemies of freedom in general, the US in particular
2 - Sky-high gas prices because the economics of the market place finally reflect the absurdity of playing ostrich with energy demands: increased cost of building materials; increased food prices; (stock up on meat now - ranchers are dumping b/c they cannot afford feed - meat prices will jump in the fall);
3 - A refusal to build more refineries or nuclear plants yet France, the darling nation of the left, gets 75-80% of its power from nuclear plants but we Americans, with some of the most strict construction laws on the planet cannot build a nuclear power plant?
Benefits of energy independence include but are not limited to:
1 - Lower prices for energy - affects housing, driving, food production, etc.
2 - More private sector jobs (regardless of the Obama mantra, government solves very little but officials are very eager to tell us they do)
3 - Cheaper food
4 - Investment funds to continue to develop cleaner and more efficient products.
In other words, couple energy independence with American ingenuity, the entire planet wins!

Updates to come but this is terrific news! Thank you, Senator Coleman!

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Where the candidates stand on free trade 

Cato's Center for Trade Policy Studies has a neat tool that looks at the voting records of Congresspersons to determine their stances on trade issues. It's neat because it divides their records between votes for trade barriers and trade subsidies. Those voting for low barriers and no subsidies are free traders. There are those who are for low barriers but subsidize domestic producers -- these are classified as "internationalists" and not free traders. I have written down the results for the three presidential candidates remaining, plus for Senator Norm Coleman:
Wellstone! by the way was the closest thing to an isolationist as we've had.

P.S. This opposition to trade subsidies should also be applied when thinking of tax breaks to dissuade airlines from taking jobs to other states. Use of the public fisc this way is a lousy deal for both small airports and large. It's all the same logic.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Housing in campaigns 

The housing issue is rearing its head in the presidential and other campaigns. MPR reports on the criticism of the Senate bill (supported by both Minnesota senators.)
The Senate bill is likely to include several provisions aimed at shoring up the weak housing market. Among them are tax credits for buyers of foreclosed homes, along with billions of dollars to refinance problem mortgages and for cities to buy foreclosed properties.

But the bill also provides billions of dollars in tax breaks for businesses. Critics, including Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, say those tax breaks come at the expense of directly helping homeowners who are in trouble.

Last night we had another blogger conference call with Senator Norm Coleman, and I asked about this criticism. His response was that the tax breaks do help homeowners and that this distinction between direct and indirect help is a false one.

He also points out the issue I raised about that criticism being in conflict with the criticism in the story of there not being enough money for mortgage counseling. As Michelle Malkin has described, the mortgage counselors are often affiliated with left-wing groups like ACORN and La Raza. Coleman defended the idea of counseling; I did not bring up these groups as part of my question, wondering if he was aware of the issue. He made no mention of them. His support of the housing bill pointed to the residential construction industry, which suffered a 14% decline in employment in 2007.

I find no discussion of the mortgage issue on Al Franken's website.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration appears ready to double-down on last summer's FHA insurance expansion.
Under the expanded program, lenders could get FHA insurance for problem loans in exchange for "voluntarily writing down the outstanding mortgage principal," according to the testimony. That would entail the government being responsible for an increasing number of risky loans.

Mr. Montgomery emphasizes in the testimony that "while considering any changes to FHA, we must ensure that the financial solvency of the [FHA] must not be compromised." FHA is a division of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which didn't return calls seeking comment.

Under the original program created last year, known as FHASecure, homeowners with high-interest, adjustable-rate mortgages currently can refinance into an FHA-insured mortgage and lower their monthly payments. To date, the administration says it's served 145,000 homeowners in need, and projections show that it will likely reach more than 400,000 by year's end. A temporary expansion of the program would be expected to add significantly to that total.
The plan differs significantly from the Durbin plan, which Coleman criticized for its cram-down provisions in "turning mortgages into junk bonds." (Ed Glaeser writes about how to not use the bankruptcy courts to solve the mortgage crisis.) In the Bush proposal, the lenders are being told if you want the FHA insurance, you have to work out a haircut of the principal, reducing the debt of borrowers. Coleman had not seen the plan yet and had no comment.

States are not missing the opportunity to posture for the voters or the media. In Minnesota, SF 3396, the Subprime Foreclosure Deferment Act continues to work through both houses of the legislature.

"We have a crisis in mortgage foreclosures, and this seemed like the boldest way that we could respond to the problem," said state Sen. Ellen Anderson, a sponsor of a Minnesota bill that would let some borrowers with subprime loans or negative amortization mortgages defer paying a portion of the amount owed, without being considered delinquent. A negative amortization mortgage is one in which the loan balance can grow even if the borrower keeps up with the payments.

I'm troubled by the implication that boldness should be the criterion by which we choose how to resolve debt issues. Seems like boldness got us here.
The Minnesota legislation would require a mortgage lender attempting to foreclose on a home to honor a borrower's request for a 12-month deferment. During that time, the borrower would have to continue paying either the monthly payment due on the loan at the time it was made, or 65% of the monthly payment at the time of default, whichever was less, though the borrower would eventually have to make up the deferred payments. The bill has passed committees in the Minnesota House and Senate, but the governor has said he probably will veto it. [Last] Wednesday, the bill's sponsors sent to the governor a letter suggesting that lawmakers work with him to craft a compromise.

The legislation faces strong industry opposition. "It would significantly erode the confidence lenders and borrowers have about the stability of contracts in Minnesota," said Tom Deutsch, deputy executive director of the American Securitization Forum, an industry group.
Contrary to some opinions, the bill does impose some real costs. The terms of the loan are changed. Who would lend again in a place where bad times means the power of government is shifted onto the depositors of a bank, its employees, and the taxpayers?

One thing is for sure: Housing draws voters' attention, which leads it to draw politicians' attention. The latter should worry you.

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Monday, March 31, 2008

Norm Coleman Campaign Launch 

I'm late with this but it is still worth viewing. Last Wednesday, March 26, the Coleman Campaign officially launched his bid for a second term as a US Senator. The kick-off was held at the campaign headquarters in St. Paul and the event was packed - well over 750 people of all stripes were in attendance! I was in the main room but there were two other rooms where video screens displayed Senator Coleman's talk.

A few photos of the event are included. Note the gratitude on the part of the Somalis. We sometimes wonder if anyone ever appreciates what we do - some of these people get it. Included with the Somali women is Barb White, Republican Candidate for MN's 5th Congressional District, seat currently held by Representative Keith Ellison.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Is health care going to be THE issue? 

At least in one race, it appears so.
Al Franken, the comedian-turned-U.S. Senate candidate, thinks the current state of health care in Minnesota � and the United States as a whole � is anything but funny.

�Every other industrialized country in the world has universal health care � we�re the only industrialized country that doesn�t � and I think it�s no coincidence that we spend twice as much per person as any other industrialized country on health care,� Franken said during a visit to the Detroit Lakes Newspapers offices on Friday. �And yet we don�t have as good outcomes as they do.

�We�re last in the industrialized world in preventive care. We have 47 million people who are uninsured, with tens of millions more who are underinsured because they can�t afford full coverage � and they live in fear that they will go bankrupt if they have a medical crisis. Medical crises are the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in this country.

�Fifty percent of the bankruptcies in this country are caused by medical crises. They don�t have that in other industrialized countries.�

Franken also notes that the current health care system has �tremendous waste,� with 34 percent of health care dollars being spent on administrative fees.

�No other country spends more than 21 percent (on administrative fees),� he said. �We have people going to work every day for insurance companies trying to figure out how to deny you care.

�I hear story after story of incredible waste in our system because we aren�t universal.�

Where do we start with this hooey? Let's look at a couple of leading examples, say, Sweden:
Health Minister G�ran H�gglund has criticized the lack of progress made toward shortening wait times in Sweden�s health system.

He made the comments in an opinion article published in Dagens Nyheter in which he stated that the 250 million kronor spent by the government on lowering wait times has apparently had a little effect.

The criticism comes in response to a report by the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) showing that nearly 45 percent of patients have longer wait times than are supposedly guaranteed by the healthcare system.
In J�mtland county, for example, four out of ten patients couldn�t even get through to their local clinic by telephone on the day they become ill.

H�gglund asserted that people are generally satisfied with the care provided�when they receive it.

�But the wait to receive attention�be it a telephone call to a local clinic or a first visit to a physician�is simply too long,� he said.
Hat tip Mark Perry, who wonders what would happen to Domino's or Northwest Airlines if four out of ten of their customers couldn't get their calls answered.

Next door in Norway, hospitals are suffering a budget crisis. This is worth reading in its entirety, but I will italicize the paragraph that should be used as a clue-bat to the back of Al Franken's noggin:
With waiting lists long, and patients still often lying in corridors, many Norwegians can't understand why medical care is under so much pressure in one of the world's wealthiest countries.

The board of Ullev�l University Hospital in Oslo, one of the country's biggest public health institutions, announced earlier this week that it needed to cut its budget by NOK 406 million (about USD 81 million). Medical personnel were quick to claim that patient care would be affected.

The cuts come after another year of reports that patients often have to wait months for operations, that clinics face shutdown or maternity patients are sent home within hours of birth. The physical plant at Ullev�l, like at many other Norwegian hospitals, can use some refurbishing, if for no other reason than to make the hospital a more cheerful, inviting place.

State officials, including Health Minister Sylvia Brustad of the Labour Party, argue that the hospitals are receiving more state funding than ever before, and that more patients are being cared for than ever. Nevertheless, cuts are warned and both hospital administrators and union leaders claim they're dealing with yet another health care "crisis."

Newspaper Aftenposten has gathered figures showing that Norwegian hospitals today have NOK 86 billion available, up from NOK 56 billion in 2002. Even though budgets have increased every year, the hospitals are using more money than they're getting. That's led to an accumulated budget deficit of around NOK 9 billion.

The number of doctors tied to Norwegian hospitals rose from 6,700 in 1995 to 10,854 in 2006, up 62 percent. The number of nurses and psychologists on staff has also increased, while administrative personnel has increased the least. The total number of hospital workers in Norway jumped from 67,098 in 1995 to 94,923 in 2006, with payroll costs jumping 70 percent.

Professor Terje Hagen of a health management and economic institute at the University of Oslo claims there is no crisis within Norwegian health care. "The hospitals have had tighter financial constraints in recent years, but they're still using more resources than planned," Hagen told Aftenposten.

Hagen says health care personnel aren't working as many hours as they did before, and notes there's more of them. Professor Ivar S�nb� Kristiansen puts the financial problems firmly on the rise in personnel and the resulting payroll hikes. He also rejects talk of a crisis.

"As I see it, neither hospital personnel nor politicians manage to say 'no' (to health care services that result in higher costs)," Kristiansen said. "When the possibilities for what can be done just get bigger and bigger, and no one sets priorities, budgets will burst.

"It's virtually immoral to talk about a crisis, when we are among the countries using the most money on hospitals in the world."
The budget that bursts is not the hospital's, in universal care. It's yours.

Now of course, Franken's supporters will argue that he doesn't really want single-payer, even though his health-care page says "A single-payer system would be the most effective in terms of reducing administrative costs, and I would be thrilled to support such a system." He just wants it for kids under 18 (that's the Obama plan, too.) But even his plan for adults -- every state mandated to come up with its own plan -- creates a problem that Glen Whitman identified a few months ago:
To enact any mandate, legislators and bureaucrats must specify a minimum benefits package that an insurance policy must cover. Yet this package can't be defined in an apolitical way. Each medical specialty, from oncology to acupuncture, will push for its services to be included. Ditto other interest groups. In government, bloat is the rule, not the exception.

Even now, every state has a list of benefits that any health-insurance policy must cover--from contraception to psychotherapy to chiropractic to hair transplants. All states together have created nearly 1,900 mandated benefits. Of course, more generous benefits make insurance more expensive. A 2007 study estimates existing mandates boost premiums by more than 20%.

If interest groups have found it worthwhile to lobby 50 state legislatures for laws affecting only voluntarily purchased insurance policies, they will surely redouble their efforts to affect the contents of a federally mandated insurance plan. Consequently, even more people will find themselves unable to afford insurance. Others will buy insurance, but only via public subsidies. Isn't that just what the doctor didn't order?
Who is going to write the mandate that says hair transplants are out? That physical therapy for a chronically arthritic shoulder is limited to only ten times a year, or that condoms are in but that new fancy IUD is out?

And what happens if you mandate that everyone buy their own health insurance, and they don't? As Whitman points out, in the 47 states with mandatory auto insurance, 12% of autos are uninsured -- a higher percentage than persons without health insurance in Minnesota. And in a third of the cases nationwide, the uninsured had household income over $50,000. (Source.)

(BTW, Arnold Kling recommends this excellent article, but it's a 7 MB pdf, so beware.)

The question comes down, as Grace-Marie Turner says, to whether you let individuals control their own care, or you let government. Sweden and Norway use government, and Al Franken thinks that's a good idea. Luckily for those Republicans suffering palpitations on their choice of presidential nominee, all of the remaining GOP candidates are not for the Scandinavian model of health care. John McCain says "To use their money effectively, Americans need more choices."

Here, by the way, is Norm Coleman's health care page. I don't see any mention of Sweden.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Coleman blogger conference call 

Several bloggers were invited to speak earlier this evening with Senator Norm Coleman about his upcoming campaign for re-election. It was a small and fairly informal affair, with Coleman holding forth with a group of about six bloggers that I heard for approximately thirty minutes. I heard Mitch, Michael, and Drew on the call. The campaign intends to make these a regular part of their schedule going forward.

The campaign put up a new video today, the first of what they hope to be many positive campaign ads highlighting Coleman's record. This one discusses some constituent service for a couple adopting a child from Haiti. There was some discussion of whether they would run more positive ads or ads contrasting Coleman from Al Franken or Mike Ciresi, but all I learned from this was that they had a plan to have both running and that some will go to TV. There was no commitment to when this would happen.

Both Coleman and campaign manager Cullen Sheehan emphasized that there was an uptick in small donations and in volunteer activity, indicating increase in activity. In response to questions about the mood of the base, Coleman pointed to low voter turnout in GOP primaries thus far but thought the issues were so important to people that we would see a response. We need independents to win, he stressed, and we have a way to go.

Questions were asked first about immigration. Coleman felt that the Bush SOTU speech had stressed the right balance about both respect for the law and for our country's highest ideals. Not a path to citizenship that allows anyone to jump ahead of legal immigrants, and nothing that would go ahead of actually securing the border first. Coleman understood that voters did not trust the Senate on the issue and this needs to be fixed, but he also felt that people want to be able to work and not live in fear. Common ground exists, he thought, in first fixing the border and then having people agree on the speaking English, paying taxes and holding employers responsible for hiring legal immigrants. I did not hear enough of how to get from those to the desire to have people not live in fear, but what I heard was stronger on immigration than some have portrayed as Coleman's position.

I asked about the stimulus package and his plans. He gave the standard answer on what I call 3T Stimulation (Timely, Temporary, Targeted) and that he felt all would come together and pass the plan by 2/15. Whether it stays identical to the House bill isn't as certain. He also gave a focused answer on housing, arguing for the Bush position on fixing Fannie and Freddie, modernizing FHA, etc. We cannot have plans like Barney Frank's plan to introduce greater regulation in credit markets, because it would end up denying access to credit to people wanting, for example, to buy their first homes. In five to seven years, he said, people may complain about lack of access to capital. The worst, he felt, would be to raise taxes.

He closed with a rather passionate defense of his position with the base, quoting the 80% rule about who to vote for (as my friend Gary says, your 80% friend isn't your 20% enemy.) I paraphrase here, but I think the line he used was "Leadership is sometimes moving in a direction that people don't yet know they need to move." The last election was not a rejection of conservatism, and on the key issues we agree. He left us with a story that comes from a Charles Swindoll book (I knew I had heard it before, but had forgotten where and had to look it up tonight.) His side was the one with the "Yes" face.

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