Is Coleman Fighting Human Error?

Yesterday, Norm Coleman made his first public appearance since the State Canvassing Board certified Franken the recount victor. During his speech, Norm stated that "Minnesotans deserve 100 percent confidence that their senator was fairly elected," this is true, but Norm Coleman will not win an election contest arguing that Minnesotans only have 99% confidence in the veracity of the recount.

Coleman is hanging his hat on a series of oddities, totaling less than the margin of defeat. The cornerstone of their arguement rests upon the double counting issue and the 171 ballots that turned up relatively late during Ramsey County's recount process. I've compiled a table detailing the breakdown of anomalous results within each of Ramsey County's 178 precincts.

Based upon relatively simple math, it appears as though 350 more ballots were counted above and beyond the total number of actual voters; the number of votes does not exceed the number of registered voters in any precinct. This 350 vote discrepancy can mostly be explained based upon the events after November 4th. We know that 171 ballots were found in Maplewood P-6 that were not present on election day; thus they could not be counted as actual votes. Reading through my table, there is a 168 vote difference between recounted votes and total voters in Maplewood's sixth precinct. If these 171 are valid to begin with, there is actually a nine vote drop off between the number of voters and votes cast; a consistent correlation in relation to the rest of Ramsey County's 177 precincts.

Subtracting these 171 votes from 350 yields a diminishing discrepancy of 179. This number can further be reduced based upon the 71 wrongfully rejected absentee ballots present within Ramsey County. That leaves 108 anomalous votes, or just .0388% of all votes cast in Ramsey County. That's fewer than one error per precinct, well within the realm of human error.

Reporter A: Is this process fair and accurate and true and are the results that you announced today accurate?

Mark Ritchie: As accurate as was humanly possible within Minnesota law.

Source: (*.wmv, 00:06:12, 71 MB)

Norm's argument is not without merit however; if the .0388% error rate is extrapolated onto the state's 2,887,337 Senate votes, the resulting calculation yields 1,120 potentially erroneous votes. Coleman would need to win these potentially erroneous votes by over 60% of the two way vote to overcome the current margin of 225.

Not only are the numbers stacked against Coleman's election contest, but the very core of his argument hinges upon correcting human error. Based upon the actual court documents, Norm is arguing that "numerous and material errors, mistakes and other irregularities" occurred during the initial canvass, the re-canvass and the recount.

Note: The entire premise of this article rests upon the inaccuracy of the "Total Voters in Precinct" column based upon the unlikelihood of that column's pre-recount value remaining consistent through the recounted result, despite an addition to the total number of ballots counted.

Update [1/13 4:37 AM CT]: Just a small, but very important correction. The 171 ballots that were not counted on election night in Maplewood were not specifically absentee ballots according to an article published by Minnesota Public Radio; they may have been absentee ballots, but that detail is unknown. It does however appear as though these 171 ballots were not included in the November 4th voter records:

The election judges apparently didn't run some ballots through the ballot counter after their ballot counter had gone down during the day. So, we had apparently more ballots in the box than we had on the tape.

Source: Minnesota Public Radio

This statement by a Ramsey County election official affirms my explanation for the discrepancy between the November 4th voter records and the recounted vote totals within Maplewood's Sixth Precinct. The election night discrepancy of 31 votes still remains unexplained. These 171 ballots may have been sporadically counted when they were initially run through the machine; whether that means votes were counted twice, or simply the presence of a ballot remains unknown; its even possible that something entirely different happened, we simply don't know. In any case its unlikely to make a difference in Coleman's legal contest.

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4 Response(s) to Is Coleman Fighting Human Error?

1/11/2009 10:08:06 AM CT

Your article is interesting and at first I thought it would give more detail about other precints and/or counties, not just the one. I'm not a big fan of extrapolating data because it assumes that all humans err in the same manner or consistency. However, the biggest flaw with your argument is what the actual results came to be from election night to the final conclusion as it stands now. By extrapolating data, no one would have thought that Franken would have been able to make up the difference between the two counts and pass Coleman by over 200 votes. So if Franken was able to find enough votes in the recount, whether legit or not, shouldn't you be able to assume that Coleman would also?
1/11/2009 10:27:38 PM CT

rj, it isn't accurate to say that no one thought Franken would be able to make up the difference. Nate Silver over a did extrapolate that.
1/12/2009 1:55:42 PM CT

I think a lot of people thought Franken would close the deficit during the recount. There were two academic papers that pointed to a probable gain by Franken; in fact this very site said the following on Nov 15th:

"All modes of interpretation clearly point to a likely surge by Franken during the recount process due to these residual votes; a fact the right seems content to ignore."

I think TJHalva was trying to point out that Franken made his comeback on a full scale recount with roughly 3 million votes, but Norm Coleman is attempting to overcome the recount certified deficit of 225 over roughly "1,120 potentially erroneous votes." Whether 1,120 is an accurate statewide estimate remains to be seen.

I think Ramsey County was used because that is where Maplewood P-6 is located; Maplewood P-6 is a key precinct in Norm Coleman's legal contest.
1/12/2009 10:14:52 PM CT

One minor correction. The 171 ballots were not absentee ballots they were ballots left in a machine after it malfunctioned.

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