By Josh Mitteldorf on 7/8/2005, 4:03pm PT  

Guest blogged by Josh Mitteldorf.

INTRODUCTION {by Winter Patriot}: Josh Mitteldorf came to our attention when his piece about the 2004 'election' was published in Philadelphia, as reported here. Since then, we have learned that Josh Mitteldorf is a renaissance man. What a remarkable set of links on his home page! We are indeed fortunate to have Josh with us for the Blogathon and I'm very happy to present a column he has written for the occasion:

Making The Most Of What You've Got
by Guest Blogger Josh Mitteldorf

This is a story of my own brand of do-it-yourself political activism.

I'm a numbers geek, not a politician. Usually, I'm comfortable with that. I've got my role, they've got theirs. But when I first understood the statistical evidence that the 2004 presidential vote was stolen, I couldn't help but think: What this calls for is not a rigorous academic paper about standard deviations and p values. What we need is some coverage.

So what I did was that I wrote a rigorous academic paper about standard deviations and p values.

It was only after a bout with postpartum depression that I began to think about expanded visibility and greater impact. What else might I do, within the purview of my role as numbers geek, and without bending my personality out of shape?

Even though I feel like nobody special, without connections to the press or big-time pols, I'm not completely powerless. Everyone knows someone who knows someone - six degrees of separation, and all that. It occurred to me I could call Joe Hoeffel.

Twenty years ago, Joe Hoeffel worked in my wife's law office. She was kind enough to give him a job when he was between political gigs, and finishing a law degree at night. But in the meantime, Joe has gone on to be 3-term congressman from Montgomery County (PA) and long ago stopped returning my calls. Then last fall he tried to run for Senate and lost resoundingly to Pennsylvania's venerable Arlen Specter. Now he's once again between political gigs and willing to answer my calls. So here was my plan:

Edison/Mitofsky was holding their exit poll results from last November close to their chest. They have no interest in releasing the raw data for public scrutiny. But I thought they wouldn't resist a subpoena. For a subpoena, you need either a legislative hearing or a lawsuit. Who had standing to initiate a lawsuit over the conduct of election, and subpoena evidence from Edison/Mitofsky? Joe Hoeffel, that's who. Officially, Joe lost to Arlen Specter by a 10% margin. But the exit polls showed them in a dead heat. 10% is a very big gap for a poll with a 3% margin of error. In fact, PA had the 4th highest gap in the country.

I approached Joe first with an email, relating the whole story and attaching my academic paper. (We geeks gotta have something we can hide behind when we're trying something scary.)

Joe was completely gracious. He was willing to listen to what I had to say. I asked if I could come to his office. He invited me to lunch....and I learned something from him. I learned that politicians don't think like actuaries. Statistical proof for me may just be a page full of numbers for him. But the flip side of this difference is that he thinks about things I don't usually consider. He's exquisitely sensitive to political and social realities. "What are the newspapers saying about your theory?" Joe asked me. "What does Dennis Kucinich say about this? He's right there on the ground in Ohio."

"I wasn't really expecting to win because the newspapers still had me twelve points behind in a poll the week before the election. I was happy to do as well as I did, actually."

Joe was keenly aware that if he sued the state over the vote count, he would be branded a sore loser, and that would make his political comeback that much harder. "But what about making sure the votes are counted correctly next time you run for office?" I asked. That was a new idea for him, not easy for him to assimilate over lunch.

Joe Hoeffel wasn't about to subpoena Mitofsky for the exit poll data, but I'd had an informative lunch, and I was emboldened to continue looking for creative avenues into the establishment. A piano buddy was talking with me about this predicament the next week, and I heard her say, "...if only Eliot Spitzer would get on this case."

Yeah, right. Eliot Spitzer, New York's white knight may be incorruptible and intrepid, but he's tied up regulating the financial markets, and shows no interest in election integrity. He's a busy man. Rumor has it he's running for governor....How does one reach Eliot Spitzer, anyway?

It was exactly one day later that I got a call from an investment advisor in New York. They have a new investment product. Yawn. The fund manager is going to be in New York on Monday. I almost hung up. "The best time for you to meet him would be if you wouldn't mind coming to a luncheon that our firm is hosting tomorrow - actually it's a fundraiser for Eliot Spitzer."

"I'll be there!"

As I said, I'm a statistician. I don't deal with Venus in the house of Sagittarius or the alignment of cosmic energy waves. But I did do a back-of-the envelope calculation for the probability of this coincidence and came out with 1 chance in 2,376,849. On Monday, I eschewed rubber chicken, but had a full two minutes to shake Elliot's hand, to place in it a packet of election articles, a letter showing that New York had the third-highest exit poll discrepancy in the country, and a personal appeal: Would he, in his capacity as Attorney General, authorize an investigation into the accuracy of New York's vote count? He looked me in the eye and promised to read it and get back to me.

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Every year I do a 10-mile road race down the length of Broad St in Philadelphia. And every year, Ed Rendell is standing on the sidelines, cheering us on. He used to come out when he was the city's Mayor and now that he's Governor, he treks in from Harrisburg the first Sunday morning in May just because he's an old pol and we're his flock. Somehow, you can't miss him, on the sidewalk of South Broad, bursting out of his blue polyester warm-up jacket. Well, this year I stopped to introduce myself, dripping sweat with nothing on but my running shoes and a pair of shorts. "Governor, I've been working with a group of statisticians who believe we have evidence that votes were stolen in the last election. It's happening all over the country, but Pennsylvania is one of the worst - a 10% gap between the exit polls and the official counts from those same precincts where the exit polls were taken."

"That's not the information I have," the Governor replied.

"Is there someone on your staff I might talk to, to present the evidence?"

The next week, I had an appointment with Rendell's chief of staff, Donna Cooper.

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Getting attention and respect in the media is just as important, maybe more important than reaching mainstream politicians. Once I started looking for them, there were opportunities to approach news moguls as well. I have an old friend who knew Paul Krugman in the 1970's when they were in college. There's a woman who answered an ad to buy my house 'for sale by owner' who is a news anchor for NBC-TV's Philadelphia station. A neighbor is good friends with the program director for Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Each one of these contacts is a lottery ticket. When my number comes up, it's going to be a big splash. But even when these contacts fail to develop into a full-blown victory, I've got to figure that I'm spreading the word, gaining a little more credibility for an idea no one wants to touch. Maybe this is the first time that someone has heard serious questions about integrity of the 2004 vote count; maybe by the third or the fourth or the fifth time it will seem real, and he'll respond.

So I'm out there looking for opportunities. I'm doing it. You can, too.

{Winter Patriot again}: That's quite a piece, don't you think? Thanks very much to Josh Mitteldorf for that.

What do you think of it? What else would you like to know?

Please leave a comment or a question [or both!] here on this thread, and if we're lucky, Josh just might drop by at some point during the weekend, and ... we know he's pressed for time ... and he told us he couldn't make any promises ... but he did sound tempted ... and he sure seems like the sort of fellow who can't pass up a lively discussion! ;-)

This item is part of the First Annual BRAD BLOGATHON, conceived and implemented by readers of The BRAD BLOG! Please help keep Brad blogging. You can click HERE to donate using PayPal or your credit card, or click HERE to donate using snail mail. Many thanks on behalf of Brad and the Bloggers behind the Blogathon!