Monday, January 18, 2010

Go here to see a 2-minute video on Scott Brown's rally yesterday. Not only did he pack Mechanics Hall with at least 2000 people but the Crowne Hotel, up the street, opened its halls for a second visit, at least another 1500 and that doesn't count those who couldn't get in. Compare the enthusiasm here with the dull response at Martha aka "Marcia" Coakley's rally on Sunday. Hmmmmm

For the record the teachers' union members were not appearing at their phone bank this morning because of the weather. But, Scott's phone banks were fully staffed.

Go Scott. Go here to help with phone calls. We have to get out the Republicans and independents voting our way. We have no choice.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Massachusetts, Scott Brown, the Numbers 

The range of polling results for the upcoming MA US Senate race have been inconsistent, but show an upward trend for the Republican candidate, Scott Brown. I don't often follow polls but in this race, they are interesting. MA is supposed to be a very blue state, perhaps the bluest so one would expect the polls to reflect a disproportionate number of Democrats as being polled.

Then I saw these surprising numbers in the WSJ: "And many people do not realize that independents outnumber Democrats�51% of registered voters in the state are not affiliated with a party, while 37% are registered as Democrats and 11% as Republicans." Hmmmm. Even with a 3+:1 advantage for Democrats, the percent of independents really impacts the results. If you add the independents and Republicans, the total is 62%. Another hmmmm. My non-statistical observations have led me to conclude that Independents vote for Democrats far more often the Republicans. If 'my' observations are correct, then the polls in MA showing Scott Brown even or ahead indicate that independents are moving right for whatever reason.

I still believe the result is still too close to predict and possibly, Coakley could end up with a huge win. But, then again, Brown may pull off an incredible win.

Jon Keller, author of the article and a political analyst for WBZ radio and TV in Boston, sums up the article with this observatin: "Are we in for another shot heard 'round the world? Perhaps. More likely, listen for the sound of horse hooves on the pavement, and a modern-day version of Paul Revere's historic warning�the backlash is coming."

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Friday, January 15, 2010

A little respect, please 

I have resisted speaking on the Norm Coleman for governor debate that rages around the MN blogs, but some posts have I think been more than a little disrespectful. Without naming names, I can characterize most of the discussion among the right and center-right blogs as being of the following varieties:
The last group bothers me in their vitriol, but many blogs thrive on it and for the most part my decision is not to read them. (Their quotes come to my via other blogs.) Sometimes they strike me as people who would rather be right than win, think it's better to lose an election to win back the party's soul. Just to remind them, there was a 16 year gap between Goldwater defeat and Reagan's election.

But the penultimate group bothers me as well because while the writer can certainly "see through Coleman" she or he does not trust the others at the state party convention to do so as well, thus losing the endorsement. (Let me add that I fully expect if Coleman asked for the endorsement and failed to get it, he would not run in the primary. I would be the first to voice disappointment if he did challenge the endorsed candidate in the primary. The other party does that; Republicans don't.)

There is a process by which one gets the endorsement. Whatever happened to "let the best man win?" Why would it produce a candidate that cannot win? If it would, then it's the process that has the problem, not the candidate. Any party member in good standing has the right to seek the endorsement and, after all his troubles last year, Sen. Coleman should have that right as much as any other GOPer.

Either trust the process or fix it. Don't use disrespect and bile to cover your lack of faith in your fellow party members to pick the best candidate.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Stop the Health Control Legislation 

It's not "care" and it's not "insurance" it's "CONTROL" of 1/6 of our economy, period. If you are so sure we have problems, check out waiting times, MRI availability, etc. in other nations. It's not pretty.

How to stop it? This article on Scott Brown, taking on the Kennedy/Democrat/control machine in MA describes the best chance Republicans have had in a very long time, to get some balance in the MA representation group in DC. In addition, Scott's election could derail the health hurricane that will affect all of us, including those of you who are so enamored with central control.

If you can possible make a contribution to Scott, please do. Info is here - yes, I sent a check yesterday.

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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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Monday, July 20, 2009

Why buy a state you already own? 

Reading John Lott today reminds me yet again of the research of Gavin Wright on the New Deal. (JSTOR copy here.) Written in 1974, Wright found that the distribution of grants and of WPA jobs were driven in no small part by political considerations.
The distribution of WPA employment was "a storm center from the beginning" (Howard 1943, p. 596), and charges of discrimination were common, most especially from governors who believed they were being shortchanged (Patterson 1969, pp. 54, 57, 77, 81, 198-200). Apprehension about the motives of WPA was promoted also by the fact that "the WPA was most reluctant to give out any information about the way in which state employment quotas were determined" (MacMahon et al. 1941, p. 223).
Wright found that if a state was more "in play" -- by which was meant the degree to which states switched support between Republican and Democratic candidates in the prior half-century -- it was more likely to receive grants and WPA jobs.

Lott writes:

Politico reported on June 5 that the �Stimulus tour� � visits by Mr. Obama and other administration officials �across the country to tout the massive spending program or hand out stimulus cash to grateful local officials� � overwhelmingly took place in states that voted for Obama: �52 of the 66 events were in states that backed Obama.� The other 14 events were in states that Obama lost only narrowly. A new study released by USA Today also finds that counties that voted for Obama received about twice as much stimulus money per capita as those that voted for McCain.

In our results, Obama's share of the vote accounted for only a small percentage of the variation in how the stimulus money is being allocated. A one percentage point increase in Obama's vote share means an additional $13.52 in per capita spending, but even then the relationship rests on the large amount of money given to D.C.

I would argue John needs a fuller analysis here of voting patterns. It makes no sense to be lavish on Washington DC in this view because the District is reliably Democratic. I would look for states that have had votes switch more often, swing states like Ohio or Missouri or Florida. If Obama's spending is politically motivated, you should be able to use that variability of voting with the measures Lott includes like unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy and find a result.

Looking at his regression, I see he's included per capita income and vote share for Obama -- I'd like to see a correlation of those two, because I suspect richer states voted for Obama. I would also think there's some multicollinearity in the various measures of economic hardship included. I'll send John a link, and suggest he try some additional tests to flesh out this result a la Wright or John Wallis (REStat 1987, JSTOR link.)

UPDATE (7/21): John emailed correlation coefficients for per capita gdp growth and Obama's vote share: .60 with DC included, .46 without. The DC influence is VERY strong.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Why DID Carter lose? 

I came up for air long enough to scan a transcript of the Bradley Symposium, "Making Conservatism Credible Again." (h/t: Arnold Kling.) It turns out to have much more to do with making the GOP credible again rather than conservatism. Art Brooks (president of the American Enterprise Institute) puts the question to the panel "How do we make conservatism accessible?" and the answer comes back that the Republican Party is the vehicle that does that.

What was most striking to me was the quote Kling stuck in his post, from Rich Lowry:
despite all of his incredible political skills, [Ronald Reagan] wouldn't have won election if it weren't for inflation, if it weren't for gas lines, if it weren't for the reigning hostage crisis, if it weren't for Afghanistan, if it weren't for the entire litany of Carter administration failures. And when you are as far as Republicans were in the late 1970s, and as far down as they are today, you need the other side to fumble, and for its vision to be discredited. And at the moment, Barack Obama has the ball, and he is going to have the ball until he commits some sort of turnover.
I was a first-year grad student in the spring of 1980, and I had to go back and check, but Carter was down to Reagan by the end of the primaries by a fair amount, and this had to do primarily with his handling of the economy. Reagan slid in the summer and early fall. He hadn't done a very good job in the early campaign. The hostage crisis had not even moved to the stage of the abortive rescue attempt. Reagan of course won by more than most people expected (it even lead to questions about polling -- guess they've been around for a long time!) The attacks on Reagan were the Goldwater strategy (without Daisy) and the snobbish appeal that he was an actor, a lightweight.

Michael Barone a few years ago remembered what had pushed people towards Reagan:
Those of us who remember the 1980 campaign sometimes forget how dire things seemed as we entered that election year. Busch begins his narrative with an account of Jimmy Carter's July 15, 1979 "malaise" speech (which, as he notes, never included that infamous word), and quickly sketches how we'd come to that point. He reminds us that in the 1970s, Time magazine featured cover stories like "Can Capitalism Survive?" Keynesian economics, which had promised us endless low-inflation economic growth, had in fact produced high-inflation economic stagnation�"stagflation," as it came to be called.
My professors at the time (except for the fellow that taught second-semester macro, who seemed impervious to the times) offered pieces on post-Keynesianism, incomes policies, and all manner of early third-way economics. None of it, we thought, seemed to work.

There are many times in life, though, where things that don't seem to work nonetheless dazzle us, bring us some good emotions that we consume. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says later that voting Obama was a "luxury purchase" and a "fashion statement." We live in a country that can afford a few foolish purchases (yes, even now). But frugality almost always follows frivolity because to continue in extravagance is disastrous. Carter was, as Obama is in Daniels' estimation, "the natural desire for change after a period of poor results", but the results so far are like a rebound romance. Eventually one moves on.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

How connected to the community are student voters? 

It turns out that students who wanted to defend their right to vote aren't so keen on the jury duty that comes with their exercise of citizenship.
Stearns County court officials are struggling with unreturned jury duty questionnaires and with students who claim they aren�t county residents though they registered to vote in the county. Other students never get the questionnaires because they have changed addresses.

�It is a big issue here in Stearns County,� said Tim Roberts, court administrator in Stearns and Benton counties. �I think it becomes an issue when we try to get people in and hold them accountable for jury service.�
Students move often; students in the dorm for fall semester often aren't there in the spring because they found other accommodations or they left the university. The report indicates 24 juror questionnaires sent to student-voters in dorms came back undeliverable. More probably from students in off-campus housing -- they don't know how much. But this begs the question I asked a few years ago: How certain are we that students who vote here really have an interest in the district? I would like in particular to know how supporters of the school district levies last year feel about having solicited votes for the levy from students who won't even bother to show up to jury duty.

Mr. Roberts is later stated to wonder "whether students should vote by absentee ballot in their home county so they don�t end up on a jury list in a county where they live only because they attend school there." Amen, brother! but this does not suit the DFL controlled Secretary of State's office:
The state wants to register as many voters as it can and welcomes the voter registration drives, said Jim Gelbmann, deputy Secretary of State. While acknowledging the unintended consequences, he said that having students vote absentee from their home county eliminates the ease of voting on the campus where students attend classes.
Was one of those unintended consequences the election of Al Franken? Franken won the 18-24 demographic 48-35 with 12% of all voters in that age group.

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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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Friday, January 02, 2009

Mrs. S writes... 

...about the question of where students vote:

...because levies are based on property value assessments, students � especially those living on campus � should not vote on property tax issues. It�s too easy to vote for something when one doesn�t pay for it.
She's not calling for students to not vote, but to vote where their permanent residences are, most often with their parents.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

The power of incumbency? 

A look back at Senate appointments made over the past 50 years shows a decidedly mixed electoral record. Of the 51 Senators who sought a full term in their own right, just 23 (45 percent) won their races. (Twenty one appointed Senators did not seek election to their appointed post.)
Chris Cilizza (h/t: Ed). Of those that ran for their spot there's a 76.6% chance of re-election. But is that really that remarkable? Collier and Munger [1994] show that the longer a representative is in office the greater their re-election probabilities. With less time, and holding a statewide office that draws well-known and well-financed challengers, it probably doesn't make much difference that someone running for that office has had the position before by appointment or by prior election. States, unlike House districts, don't get gerrymandered. And because the senator only faces one challenger in six years as opposed to three, s/he's more likely to survive past six years than his or her House counterpart.

So one wonders instead why it is that so many appointed Senators do not seek election? Some of it is the placeholder hypothesis -- you put someone in the spot that is not going to run because someone else wants to run for it in two years. But how many Beau Bidens are there? I don't think we can expect that there will be too many of them. If incumbency has advantages, such as free press or the franking privilege, why wouldn't more appointed senators choose to run and win? Are appointees typically weaker political figures with little experience? In that case, wouldn't time in office for Caroline Kennedy be invaluable to prepare her for runs in '10 and '12? Wouldn't she more prefer to be appointed than, say, Andrew Cuomo?

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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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Coleman Recount 

I've discussed the recount in the past (posted here).

The MN voting system actually is good. When overseas ballots and machine unreadable absentee ballots are received, a duplicate ballot is made, under very specific guidelines. The number of ballots marked as "duplicate" is supposed to be equal to the number of original ballots. Sometimes, the originals are lost (as in Lakeville P-10) but in the vast majority of cases, the number of originals and duplicates matched.

For most precincts the recount does find an equal number of duplicates and originals. But what do you do when the numbers do not match? In Dakota County, where I observed the entire process, Secretary Ritchie changed the rules multiple times. First, the recount was to count ballots that went through the machine, the duplicates; then originals; then the two party representatives were to agree on which set was to be counted. In addition to the changing rules, it appeared the Franken people knew in advance what was going to happen. Now, this last point could have been because they had better communication or maybe some other reason????

As the Dems argue, A is harmed if his vote is improperly rejected; but voter B is equally harmed if A's vote is counted twice. Therefore, you cannot count originals and duplicates. Heck, if this request is granted, any other close race in the state should have the same rules applied.

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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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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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Monday, November 17, 2008

Faith-based election management #mnrecount 

The StarTribune last week posted a note suggesting that John Lott's analysis (noted here) did not add up. It had entirely different numbers than John's analysis had had. I assumed John had seen it, and indeed he did. It turns out the data included in the StarTribune report held information on two precincts (Richfield W3 P1 and Alexandria W1 P2) that had not reported any presidential results at all. The StarTribune analysis tried to include these data to show that the changes in the Franken-Coleman race and in the Obama-McCain race were comparable. Having established that the Richfield and Alexandria entries were the source of the difference, John writes (reprinted here with his permission):
[M]y piece makes it very clear that I was writing about corrections of typos, not slightly late reported results. The point of these numbers was to measure the corrections made that could possibly have been due to fraud. That does not include counties that simply reported their results very slightly after the time you set as the cut off.

My son, who is working at Fox News this fall, called the auditor of Douglass county, where the Alexandria precinct is located. The auditor said that there had been a network malfunction and so the numbers were not sent until Wednesday morning. The auditor said he thought this change was very different from those that other counties had in correcting typos.

So, the fact is that among precincts that had successfully reported results, Obama gained just 106 votes. Franken gained 435 votes. Those are the relevant numbers for trying to get an idea if any fraud may have occurred.

If you wanted to evaluate something different from what I did, fine, make it clear. But don't accuse someone of getting it wrong and imply that you have no idea where the numbers came from. Explain your reasons for your approach and why it is better. Assuming that you didn't understand what I had written and didn't see that my piece was talking about correcting typos, I suggest that you try to contact me or other authors when that happens.

I trust that you all will now correct your piece.
Nobody believes that zeroes were the right entries for those two precincts for president. But the StarTribune has run a confusing story here with very little thought put into it and in the process allowed some "editor for computer-assisted reporting" to engage Dr. Lott claiming "[h]is numbers are simply wrong." The editors do not come off better for it. I hope John isn't waiting for a correction though. They aren't too good at that sort of thing.

As I stated last week, it's not a question for statistics to answer if three typos are the stuff fraud is made of. To be blunt, we just don't know and you wish you had better reporting. I had one correspondent (who has asked to remain anonymous) reported to me that rural precincts in Saint Louis County faxed rather than called in their results. That would make some sense, as a fax leaves a trail that can be verified. Why isn't this sort of thing being reported? How about if the StarTribune did that rather than passing off interoffice email musings as editorials?

We are expected to take these typos on faith in the good behavior of election officials. Most of them are good people; I know one, and his life this month has been a living hell. I hope that both the Coleman and Franken campaigns can remember to treat those officials as human beings. We invest in an automatic system of reporting in part to not have aspersions cast on these good people. As I told that election official, the one thing you want is assurance that, at the end of the day, we all agree that we got the best count we could get. It would be nice if the media would help.

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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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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Maybe that's three typos #mnrecount 

It appears to me, and I think as well to John Hinderaker (see bottom of Scott's post) that there may have been three typos, or two typos and an example of the old children's game 'Telephone', that accounts for most of the decline in the vote margin for Norm Coleman. The graph to the left shows the declines. You see three distinct drops. Based on the data I have by precinct (three snapshots, taken Weds morning, Sunday afternoon and last night), I see three major changes.

  1. The Two Harbors Ward 1 dispute (that John Lott brought up yesterday) appears to be an input error. The total Franken votes was initially entered as 27 and then updated to 273, a difference of 246. Seems quite possible someone simply forgot to put that '3' at the end. That's the first drop down that you see in the above graph. Given the number of votes and distribution in other races, that seems quite plausible if you assume the input of data is human.
  2. John reports that he thinks the 200 votes added because of typos in Partridge Township and Mountain Iron are simply typos. Probably so. In Partridge Twp a leading 1 for 129 was dropped. In Mountain Iron, we're told someone called in a Franken total of 506 but on the other side of the conversation at the county office it was heard to be 406. As John says, nobody seems to be disputing those stories from the Coleman campaign.
If those are three mistakes, then what's the odds three mistakes all go Franken's way? Assuming the odds of a mistake are 50-50, the answer is .125 or 7 to 1. I'm not inclined to call that statistically imponderable.

There is a legitimate question that Scott Johnson asks this morning, which is the admission of a more human element in reporting results than was anticipated. There is supposed to be a secure, automated transmission of results that failed in this case. Secure data transmissions would have prevented these typos or relay errors. In a narrow election, as SOS Mark Ritchie should now understand, these types of mistakes, even though relatively rare and most likely innocent, still give rise to the possibility of misunderstanding and claims of electoral mischievousness. The reason you have these things automated is to avoid blaming "exhausted election officials." If the system wasn't working before the election, didn't someone have the obligation to make it right before the biggest election in Ritchie's term?

There are other errors that need clarification as well, including the ballots in a HennCo official's car, or some other changes (I still haven't seen a good account of the Coon Rapids W2P1 revisions for example; though they are reductions across the board, the net effect is a 34 vote reduction in Coleman's margin; there were also key errors in Brooklyn Park P5 netting 30 to Franken and 25 for Franken in St. Paul W3P3.) But I think for the most part it behooves those who support Coleman to turn away from the larger errors as being a source of the problem and focus on ballot security and answering the qui custodiet custodiens problem that's about to face them. (For one thing, who chooses the canvassing board that will hear the disputed ballot arguments?)

UPDATE: While I was writing, so was Ed:

I spoke directly with this election judge, who elaborated on this information. The county actually knew about the failure four days in advance. The election judges alerted the county to the problem, but they declined to reprogram the cards with the proper IP address. Election judges have to go through training on how to use these machines, and one can understand the frustration this person had at being told to just forget it all.

One point should be emphasized. The ballots got conveyed to the county facilities by one person. Before the advent of electronic transmission, ballots were almost always guarded by two people to avoid the appearance (and the reality) of ballot tampering. In fact, that�s the reason why states and counties went to electronic transmission of ballot counts � to keep human hands off of the tallies as much as possible.

Hennepin County issued no written instructions for the processing of ballots in the failure of electronic transmission. It looked to this judge like they simply made up the process as they went along. That failure is itself unconscionable. The county should have already had a back-up plan, and certainly should have had a written process for safeguarding ballots and results within the four days that they knew of the programming failure, especially if they weren�t prepared to reprogram the precinct machines � which the election judge told me would have been a simple thing to do, and easily accomplished in the four-day window.

Regardless of the outcome of this election, the Ritchie Secretary of State's office has been shown to be careless in assuring clean elections, which was the centerpiece of his campaign in 2006. Ed is calling the Ritchie office for comments. I believe this is not just the case in HennCo. The Moountain Iron case, while perhaps innocent of malfeasance, also admitted of human error when a tape was available for transmission:
Officials say the Mountain Iron voting discrepancies may have occurred on election night, when city election officials called in the results to the St. Louis County seat in Duluth. Because St. Louis County covers more than 7,000 square miles and some precincts are three hours away from the county seat, the county allows local election officials to call in unofficial results ahead of official tallies.
Why? Could not the optical scanners in Mountain Iron have sent that data by modem?

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Worth reading... #mnrecount 

...on the recount is Nate Silver. Key observation:
If, for instance, 25,000 votes or about 0.9 percent of the total are reclassified during the recount, than Franken's odds of winning are only about 7 percent. If only 0.5 percent of the total vote is reclassified, then his odds of winning are not much more than 2 percent.
Silver argues for why more of the misclassified votes should go to Franken than Coleman (he assumes in the above that misclassified votes are equally likely to be Franken and Coleman.) Maybe so, maybe not. But the thing to remember is that .9% would mean that nearly every ballot that had no Senate vote recorded had some way of knowing voter intent. (Plus you'd have to add machine error, a rate which is very, very small. In 2006 a Supreme Court primary recount found only 0.02% of ballots uncounted. That only changed 7 votes out of over 400,000.) He notes:
In Minnesota, the vast majority of counties have such precinct scanning systems, but they may be applied inconsistently -- it appears that in most precincts, for instance, the machines were programmed to alert the voter to an overvote, but not to an undervote. If a precinct scan check is not applied, or the poll worker is too busy or distracted to alert the voter, error rates using optical scanning systems be at least twice as high.
That is my experience, since I usually do not vote the judicial races when there is no challenger to the incumbent (or when I have no knowledge of any of the candidates.) I've never had the machine flag an undervote. I have seen it flag the overvote.

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Another precinct heard from #mnrecount 

John Lott writes today about the Minnesota "pre-count".
This all has occurred even though there hasn�t even yet been a recount. Just local election officials correcting claimed typos in how the numbers were reported. Counties will certify their results today, and their final results will be sent to the secretary of state by Friday. The actual recount won�t even start until November 19.

Correcting these typos was claimed to add 435 votes to Franken and take 69 votes from Coleman. Corrections were posted in other races, but they were only a fraction of those for the Senate. The Senate gains for Franken were 2.5 times the gain for Obama in the presidential race count, 2.9 times the total gain that Democrats got across all Minnesota congressional races, and 5 times the net loss that Democrats suffered for all state House races.

Virtually all of Franken�s new votes came from just three out of 4130 precincts, and almost half the gain (246 votes) occurred in one precinct -- Two Harbors, a small town north of Duluth along Lake Superior -- a heavily Democratic precinct where Obama received 64 percent of the vote. None of the other races had any changes in their vote totals in that precinct.

The Two Harbors point is new to me, and I'm seeking clarification from Lott. So too is the relative size of the gains and losses. Political Animal tweets an update: "Coleman has lost 65 votes; Franken has gained 456 votes and Barkley had gained 82 votes since Wednesday; my guess is that the difference is those 32 votes in the Hennepin County car. It may be that the Senate data is getting closer scrutiny (which reduces some of your faith in other results, yes?) and we again should note that there are basically two typos and a misreport that account for most of this gain. Typos are not subject to statistical analysis; most of my post on Friday regards the one or two vote changes we see. An error in the hundreds place is one random change, not one hundred changes. Still, they are rather large errors.
Indeed, the 504 total new votes for Franken from all the precincts is greater than adding together all the changes for all the precincts in the entire state for the presidential, congressional, and state house races combined (a sum of 482). It was also true that precincts that gave Obama a larger percentage of the vote were statistically more likely to make a correction that helped Franken.
Curiouser and curiouser. Just got another change, putting Coleman at +238. This is becoming like New England weather -- if you don't like the vote count, wait a minute! (Oddly, the SOS website doesn't seem to have that number.) Crap, read the time but not the date, that was last Friday. My mistake, sorry.

People are guarding the ballots now in a volunteer effort (Mrs. S has volunteered, though the Stearns County ballots appear to be secured.) One election official I spoke to called this the longest week of his life; he's going to have a few more.

Lott also says this about voter intent:
Voters themselves insert their ballot into the machine that reads and records their votes, and if the machine finds that a vote isn�t recorded, voters can either mark the race that they forgot to mark or didn�t mark clearly. Or if voters �overvoted� and accidentally marked too many candidates, voters can also get a fresh ballot. There should be no role to divine voters� intentions. If a voter wanted a vote recorded for a particular race, the machine tells him whether his vote in all the races was counted.
The law now allows for manual recount, which sounds great but allows for those squinting eyes "divining voter intent".

UPDATE: Ironman has a new tool, useful when we get to the recount process.

Now we can ask something about those absentee ballots. Using the numbers above I'm going to surmise that of the 32 absentee ballots found under some HennCo worker's McDonalds' wrappers, 21 went for Franken and four for Coleman (using the difference between John's numbers and the update.) Franken took just about half of the votes in the county. What are the odds that a batch of ballots drawn randomly -- or rather, sitting randomly in someone's car for a several day joy-ride -- are of the same type as the rest of the county? About 2.5%. More interesting, what are the odds that there would be only four Coleman votes in the batch of 32? About 0.3%. Curiouser and curiouser.

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Friday, November 07, 2008

Interesting split 

Larry Schumacher -- for whom I'm told birthday wishes are in order -- tells us an interesting fact:

A majority of voters in Benton and Stearns counties picked Republican John McCain for president Tuesday and a plurality voted to re-elect U.S. Sen. Norm

But a plurality of voters in the two counties also supported Democrat Elwyn Tinklenberg for Congress.

...Tinklenberg won almost 48 percent of the vote in Stearns County and nearly 46 percent of the vote in Benton County, compared with Bachmann, who won 43 percent of both counties� voters.

[McCain] won 52 percent of the vote in Stearns County and 53 percent in Benton County, compared with Obama, who received 45 percent of the vote in Stearns and 44 percent in Benton.

Coleman won 46 percent of the vote in Stearns County and 44 percent in Benton County. Democratic challenger Al Franken received 34 percent of the vote in both Stearns and Benton.

Now I'm sure that people will want to ascribe Tinklenberg's strength in central Minnesota to Bachmann's Hardball comment, but I don't see it that way. Tinklenberg had several friends among GOPers here from his days as transportation commissioner, with strong support for Northstar light rail to St. Cloud. I had noted a few yards with both McCain and Tinklenberg signs. (Folks will remember that former Rep. Jim Knoblach was head of the House Capital Investment committee during that time.)

Larry also notes that Sherburne County, the most Republican of the three up here, had 87% turnout. That high turnout might have saved Bachmann, probably more than the Bob Anderson theory.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I have to agree 

McCain should have opposed the bailout. There was a lot of popular resentment of it; it would have put a mile's distance between McCain and Bush's failures; it would have given McCain a great populist issue to ride; and it would have put Obama in the awkward position of defending Bush to the country. Even though the public wanted to "do something," McCain could easily have screamed "Yea, but not this!" from the rooftops - and people would have listened.

The main counter-argument: If McCain had opposed the bailout, it might not have passed - making it much harder to campaign against it. Indeed, Obama might have seen the trap and opposed the bailout, too, making it even harder for McCain to make the bailout his central issue. I wouldn't dismiss these possibilities. But even if they came to pass, an anti-bailout McCain would have had better chances than he does today.
From Bryan Caplan's student Brian Blase. Indeed, some are pointing to McCain's decision to suspend his campaign as being the end of his surge in the polls, but what if he had gone to DC not to help broker a deal for Congressional Republicans but to lead the opposition? Had he lead a successful opposition, it would have bolstered him as long as the market did not tank more than it did. Had it passed and the market tanked, he could say "See? I warned you!" But if he opposed, the bill failed, and the Dow was at, say, 5000 on Monday, he would have been probably no worse off than he was yesterday.

So why didn't he? I think he believed the bailout would work (as I did), and acted sincerely rather than strategically.

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Tuesday's big winner: Pollsters 

At the national level at least, most pollsters who projected the large Obama turnout were correct. In Minnesota, where we were told to expect 80% turnout, the current statistics are for 77.8%. Remember that in MN, that number includes first-time voters and those registering at the polling stations as having moved from previous districts. There were over half a million such folks yesterday. I do not know a single person that did not vote yesterday, despite many saying their early visits to the precincts were greeted with much longer-than-normal wait times. (I did not wait at all voting at 8:45AM.)

I think pollsters had the Bachmann-Tinklenberg race about right. Probably a little too pessimistic on Erik Paulsen, whose race ought to be a lesson to most people that walking and knocking on every door in your district still works. As to the Coleman-Franken race, that race was probably tighter than most expected. Given the national trends on Senate versus House, I see the possible storyline being that Obama's vaunted turnout machine did exactly what was advertised -- in heavily Democratic districts, they turned out their voters in larger numbers than in the past. I'll work up a spreadsheet on that for MN in a day or two.

And as commenters noted correctly, the whole Bradley effect discussion turned out to be completely wrong. President-elect Obama did not over-poll.

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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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Would the Bradley effect change the outcome? 

Should Barack Obama worry about the Bradley effect? The much-discussed effect refers to observed discrepancies between voter opinion polls and election outcomes, in which African-American candidates receive a smaller vote share than would be predicted using opinion polls. In this column, I study US congressional and gubernatorial contests from 1998 to 2006 � black candidates on average receive a 2-3% lower share of the two-party vote than non-black candidates with similar numbers in the polls. If an effect of a similar size would appear in the current presidential race, then it would lower Obama�s probability of winning from 85% to 53%. However, black Republican candidates drive the result, so it may not apply to Obama�s campaign.
David Stromberg at VoxEU today. What makes the effect interesting is that he corrects for the idea that most estimates of the effect miss the confounding factor that most black candidates for governor or Congress have less than 50% poll support. (The two effects would work against each other so that you'd find no significant Bradley effect.) Stromberg corrects for this by including the last poll result as a control variable. the sub-sample of close elections, where the black candidate has 45-55% in the polls, the mean difference between elections and polls is �3.5%. The gap is �2.3% in races where the black candidate polls between 40-60%. Absent the catch-up effect, the black candidates do worse than the polls.
If you use the entire sample, Obama pulls 51-52% of the two-party vote based on Stromberg's estimates. If you buy the 55-45 spread instead, every poll with Obama under 53% becomes a plausibly a case for McCain. Looking at the RCP average, McCain would need all that and most of the remaining undecideds for an upset win. Current InTrade odds put Obama at 90%. A gambling man would bet the dog, and I'm such a man.

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I did not know that 

From Labor Day through last Friday, about 750 national surveys asked voters one variant or another of the question: "How would you vote if the presidential election were being held today?" In 2004, only 239 such polls were taken. Forty years ago in the Nixon-Humphrey race, such a question was only asked 10 times from Labor Day through election eve.
John Fund, in today's Political Diary. I am certain that technology has moved so that the cost of any poll is cheaper. But I wonder sometimes if all this polling leads to an information cascade? (c.f. Ivo Welch.)

Does the cascade lead to voting behavior too? We'll know soon. I'm thinking of running this experiment in class, but held off for fear it would be taken as a political statement. Such is the time in which we live.

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Illegal immigrants and MnSCU 

I received last night an email from Joshua Behling, the challenger in the MN House District 15B race against incumbent Larry Haws. There was an on-campus debate of local House races. I've reprinted the email with permission:
We just finished up a debate at the campus of St. Cloud State University. There were 10 questions that were asked by the moderators and then questions from the audience were asked.

A question was asked by a student of SCSU. He spoke with broken English. His question was, "With the large amount of immigrants in this area and state what will you do as a Legislator to make sure that immigrants have an opportunity to succeed?"

Rep. Larry Haws responded 1st by saying, "What kind of immigrants are you talking about?"

The student responded, "Well there are a lot of different immigrants but mostly in this area I guess, Somalians."

Rep. Larry Haws responded, "Are we talking legal or illegal immigrants?"

The student responded, "Legal."

Rep. Larry Haws responded, "Good, because if your talking about legal, then I say send 'um here [SCSU], we'll check you at the door. If you are talking illegal then send 'um over to Tech [St. Cloud Tech College]."

There was about a 5-10 second pause as the ENTIRE room gasped and re-adjusted themselves in their chairs.

You could see that all but a few of the students looked at him and each other thinking, I can't believe he just said that.
The requirements for international student admissions at SCTC are here. The application form does ask you about your status. If you are not in status, you are to provide a written explanation.

However, Rep. Haws has pointed out something interesting. The House Research Department put out a document in December 2004 titled "Noncitizens and Minnesota Law". It reads from page 47:
The application forms of Minnesota�s two public higher education systems�the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and University (MnSCU)�require information on the applicant�s residency, citizenship, and visa status. Application forms also request an applicant�s Social Security number as an optional piece of information. MnSCU requires international students and nonimmigrants to complete separate application forms. Admission to Minnesota�s public postsecondary institutions does not depend on being a legal resident of the United States.
And on page 49:
...MnSCU board policies allow resident tuition for refugees under federal law and authorize MnSCU institutions to adopt policies to exempt nonimmigrant international students from nonresident tuition. Several MnSCU institutions operate under a board-approved tuition waiver programs that authorize a single tuition rate for resident and nonresident students. These campuses can charge resident tuition to undocumented students without being in violation of federal law. The University of Minnesota also has policies providing exemptions to the nonresident classification. None of the exemptions are based on citizenship or immigration status.
Emphasis added in both. My data is a few years old here, but I don't recall seeing this changed. I'll post this with hope that you'll correct me in comments if I missed a legal change.

Now schools might treat the legal status on their own differently -- MnSCU seems to provide latitude to schools to request your I-20 or I-94 forms, which may mean they can turn you down if you don't have them. A campus "may have" additional requirements. So perhaps Rep. Haws has pointed out something about SCTC that we didn't know; they might not have that additional requirement. Perhaps we have something to look at for the next Legislature.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

AM 1280 Stars in the Cities - October 28 - Join Us! 

Talk the Vote
The Patriot's very own Dennis Prager, Michael Medved and Hugh Hewitt are coming to town to Talk the Vote on Tuesday, October 28th! Talk the Vote will take place at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis at 7:30pm (doors open at 7:00pm). The event is free, but you need to RSVP here or 651-289-4444.

Limited tickets remain to a Talk the Vote VIP Dinner with all three hosts prior to the event at the Hilton Hotel in Downtown Minneapolis. Tickets are $99 which include dinner, photo opportunity with all 3 hosts and front row seats to the big show! Click here to order your tickets.

Let's pack the house!!!!

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Use the Label, Please 

Political insiders throw around names: Pelosi, Reid, etc. as though people know that these abysmal leaders are Democrats. Hello, conservative pundits - John Doe does not know these people are Democrats.

As Henry Ford was reported to say, "I don't care what the reason is, just spell my name correctly." When conservatives and Republicans only throw out names. it provides free publicity for them.

Hint: "Democrat Pelosi, Democrat Franken, Democrat Reid, Democrat Barney Frank, etc. "

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Monday, September 08, 2008

The Best People Surround Themselves with Talent 

The best people have no fear of talent, skill, ability, success. They intuitively know that surrounding themselves with others who are good or better than they is a win/win situation. Ronald Reagan understood this principle. He simply attracted the best to work with him. Why? He recognized he could not do everything; he needed expertise in other areas and he found the best he could for every environment.

John McCain understands this, too. He picked a brilliant, relatively unknown governor who had taken on the "system." Sarah has the courage to do what is right. McCain needs this independence because he wants to get government off our backs. Over intrusive government stifles creativity, freedom, etc.

John McCain has no qualms about Sarah getting the attention because he knows what is at stake. Sarah will drive the Republican base. Sarah will give hockey (and soccer) moms a reason to return to the party of responsibility (yes, we blew it a few years ago). Sarah is every feminist's nightmare - Sarah has done everything the feminists have been whining about for 40 years but, horrors, Sarah is a Republican!!

A presidential ego that has to pick a VP who will not be a threat in any way to the top of the ticket is a losing proposition. McCain picked the future. Sarah is just the first. Surround yourself with good people - we all win.


Michelle Obama claims that Barack also showed courage by picking Joe Biden:
"What you learn about Barack from his choice is that he�s not afraid of smart people."
People say that Hillary is intimidating. I have seen nothing suggesting that people might fear Biden because he's so smart. Obama's VP choice reveals exactly the fear of being overshadowed that is absent in McCain.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin 


We've got out of town guests all day, more tonight but this is terrific news!

She's got it all!!!!


KING ADDS: I had mused on this possibility last weekend as an appeal to the PUMAs. Howard Wolfson is saying the same thing this morning.
If the pick is indeed Sarah Palin you are going to have a lot of women voters wondering why Senator Obama didn't tap Senator Clinton as his running mate.
In this morning's Political Diary from the WSJ, Colorado state party chair Dick Wadhams is quoted as saying that state's electoral college votes would depend on suburban female voters. Maybe that's the thinking. Powerline is very disappointed; Michael's taking it pretty well given what he's said for weeks.

Update by Janet: Some of us have hoped for this for over a year. True, she is young but she has more executive experience that any of the other 3 top candidates; she is feisty; she has integrity; she's quick - you don't achieve what she's achieved b/c you're short on gray matter. It's not that she's female, it's that she's got guts. She's not bound by the standard network; she thinks for herself yet has conservative values. I would have supported any VP candidate and had my preference in addition to Palin. But this presidential race is crucial. If McCain uses her and does not put her aside, this could be a terrific team! Put Romney in as SoS or Treasury - maybe they will learn from him; Lieberman for SoS or Dept. of Defense; Giuliani for Homeland Security.

The Republicans have a bench, a deep bench; the Dems do not - they had to rely on another leftist liberal Nor' easter. They simply do not understand there are more than seven or eight states in the USA. They are stuck in the 1930's and 1960's mindsets. The world has moved on, they have not. Palin will bring excitement to our party; who knows, we may get back the House. I know, I'm being optimistic here but energy and excitement go a long way. We might even get the Gang of 16 to reconsider. Palin sure knows energy!

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hypocrisy of the Left 

Now that Joe Biden has been selected as Barack Obama's Vice Presidential candidate, one can only wonder at the wisdom (?) of Obama's advisers. We keep hearing how the Democrat Party is the party of inclusion. So many Democrats pride themselves saying they include all these people from all these different groups then they totally ignore the strongest female candidate to appear in the political arena, Hillary Clinton.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of Hillary Clinton's socialist vision but her supporters have a legitimate gripe/concern/etc. While Obama out maneuvered her to get more delegate votes, Hillary won the popular vote among Democrats but did not get the nomination. (Does this sound a bit familiar?)

Snubbing Hillary indicates a team of petty, immature, and insecure people. As this short article by Bill Kristol indicates, Democrats do have a glass ceiling.

This behavior from a guy who says we should negotiate with our enemies with no preconditions? Heck, if he can't negotiate with Hillary, why does anyone think he can use his glib tongue to sit down and talk with Chavez, etc. ?

HT - Hot Air

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Biden, Gaffes, Etc. 

The press may or may not cover Biden too often but the following quote by William Katz is a winner:
Biden has a way with words - using thousands of them when ten would do and five would be perfect. Thus, the law of averages is against him. The chances of a gaffe increase proportionately with the number of words employed.
This quote from Richard Cohen of the Washington Post is also quite revealing:
The only thing standing between Joe Biden and the presidency is his mouth. That, though, is no small matter. It is a Himalayan barrier, a Sahara of a handicap, a summer's day in Death Valley, a winter's night at the pole (either one) -- an endless list of metaphors intended to show you both the immensity of the problem and to illustrate it with the op-ed version of excess. This, alas, is Joe Biden.
According to some, Senator BIden is an expert on foreign policy though other readings lead one to question his expertise. Regardless, loose lips sink ships.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

John Kline's Opponent - Bummin' a Free Ride? 

John Kline, US Congressman from Minnesota's Second Congressional District is being challenged by Democrat Steve Sarvi. The Kline campaign has registered and paid the entry fee to walk in almost 40 parades in communities throughout the district.

John Kline and his supporters have turned out in force, in numbers ranging the low 30's to over 70 per parade, and expect to continue such turnouts through the fall. Sarvi has missed a number of parades, and the number of his supporters has been much smaller when he has shown up. (See this report noting attendance in the parade in Steve's home town, Watertown.)

But there is another problem with the Sarvi campaign. At yesterday's parade in Lonsdale, we checked the parade registrant list. Sarvi was not listed as a participant, yet he "doubled up" to walk with a local MN House representative. Is this the first time that Sarvi has ducked the parade registration fees while showing up to walk the parade route with several of his supporters, all wearing campaign T-shirts with his name on it? Probably not.

Stiffing local parade organizers over registration fees indicates irresponsibility on the part of a candidate. It raises the question: How many times this season has Mr. Sarvi just bummed a ride from some other candidate? Do we want to even consider someone who mooches like this to represent us in Congress?

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