LONG GONE ELECTION: Tabulation method, reliability of machines are doubted.
By LISA DEMER
Anchorage Daily News
December 20, 2005
The official vote results from the 2004 general election are riddled with mistakes and discrepancies, are impossible for the public to make sense of, and should be corrected as soon as possible, the Alaska Democratic Party says.
To most Alaskans, the election may seem like a long-done deal, something that concerns only political junkies, candidates and analysts. But questions have been swirling ever since the polls closed about how the results were tabulated and the reliability of the electronic voting machines, said Kay Brown, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party.
For instance, when district-by-district vote counts are totaled, President Bush received 292,267 votes, according to an analysis by the Democrats. But his official total was 190,889, a difference of more than 100,000 votes, according to the state Web site.
Everyone agrees you cannot figure out how many votes a statewide candidate got in a particular district with the present system.
"The numbers just do not add up, and we'd like to get to the bottom of why," Brown said.
The Democratic Party on Monday filed a request with the state Division of Elections for the electronic data file of voting results, the record of who voted in the 2004 general election, and paper results from machines used in early voting.
Elections officials dispute that the vote results published on the state's Web site have mistakes. But the data are collected and reported in ways that the average person cannot make sense of without help, officials acknowledged.
By the 2006 elections, the state should have a better vote reporting system in place, said Whitney Brewster, who took over as state Elections Division director on Nov. 1.
"The information is accurate. It is just not being reported in the form the Democratic Party would prefer," Brewster said.
The Democrats are raising questions just as Diebold Election Systems Inc., the controversial company that provides the state's electronic voting machines, comes under new fire, according to published reports. Two groups of investors have sued the parent company, Diebold Inc., accusing it of trying to conceal problems with its voting machines.
In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush said the state should rethink how it tests the machines after a county elections official said they could be hacked into. Diebold's chief executive, Wally O'Dell, quit last week. He earlier was criticized for inviting people in 2003 to a fundraiser for President Bush with a letter stating he planned to help "Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president."
Efforts to speak with a Diebold company representative late Monday were unsuccessful.
Alaska has confidence in the Diebold AccuVote machines because recounts and hand counts have always verified the electronic results, said Shelly Growden, elections supervisor in the Fairbanks regional office.
Voters fill out paper ballots that can then be compared to the electronic vote totals, she said.
The state Elections Division publishes voting results on the Web in two ways. An "official results" summary gives vote totals by candidate. A "statement of votes cast" breaks down the data in more detail by House district. It's also considered an official result.
The district-by-district report appears to be full of quirks, Brown said. The Democrats added all of the votes cast for Bush or Democrat John Kerry by district and came up with thousands more votes than in the official summary. Some local races were off too. In a Fairbanks Senate race, Democrat Rita Allee earned 5,366 votes, according to the district-by-district report, but just 4,854 in the summary report, Brown said.
In addition, more than 200 percent of the registered voters in some districts cast ballots, which should be impossible.
There are explanations for the kooky numbers, Brewster and Growden said.
First, the Municipality of Anchorage had a special election at the same time as the state general election. If a voter cast ballots in both elections, the electronic ballot scanners counted each as if from a separate voter.
"There is no way to trick the tabulation system into counting that as anything but two votes cast," Brewster said.
Plus, the state pushed early voting, when voters can go to certain spots before Election Day to vote.
The catch is that those ballots were totaled in each of the state's four election regions, not reported by House district. The regional total shows up on the state reporting form in every district.
For instance, in Anchorage's House District 13, the state reported that 5,865 ballots were cast in early voting for the U.S. Senate race, the same as in District 14, 15 and every one of the 20 districts in the Southcentral region. The Southcentral region includes districts 13 through 32, so the early voting number was repeated 19 extra times.
Therefore, if someone adds up all the vote totals, including early voting totals, in many races, the number will be inflated.
"If you don't have a degree in mathematics or engineering, it will always be confusing," said Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, who said he's asked the state to change its format next time around.
Brown said it shouldn't be so complicated or confusing.
"You have to add things together and back things out to get to the statewide summary and make it all match," Brown said.
The division essentially says "trust us." That is why the Democrats are asking for data so they can check it all themselves, she said.
The Democrats are not asserting that anyone hacked into the computers or that anyone who lost a race really should have won, Brown said.
"We are trying to determine how many votes each candidate got in each district, and we can't tell that from the public data," she said.
Daily News reporter Lisa Demer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 257-4390.
© Copyright 2005, The Anchorage Daily News, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Company
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