'Election Verification Exit Poll' analysis show tallies of 'Marriage Equality Ban' off by 7.5%, as high as 17.7% in some L.A. precincts...
By Brad Friedman on 1/13/2010, 4:45pm PT  

In the November 2008 election, the tabulation of votes for California's Proposition 8 --- the controversial ballot measure which resulted in the repeal of marriage equality by, for the first time, amending the state's constitution to deny the rights of Californians --- was "probably corrupted".

That's the finding of a newly released study issued by a coalition of election integrity organizations, as based on their analysis of an Election Verification Exit Poll conducted in Los Angeles on the day of the 2008 general election. "An investigation is warranted," the study concludes, into the evidence which suggests a likelihood that either "fraud or gross errors" occurred in the tabulation of that specific ballot measure.

The complete 49-page study has now been released on a new website, WasProp8Straight.org.

The poll was conducted on Election Day by Election Defense Alliance, Protect California Ballots, and ElectionIntegrity.org and was designed and researched with the help of at least one well known exit pollster, Ken Warren of St. Louis University's The Warren Poll, for the express purpose of measuring the accuracy of the reported vote count. It functioned beautifully in general, by confirming the results of most of the issues and races on the ballot. On Proposition 4, for example, which concerned a similar hot-button issue --- parental notification for abortion --- polling results and official election results matched within 2%, well within the expected margin of error.

However, for Proposition 8 only, the official results varied from the Election Verification Exit Poll by an average of 7.75% in the 19 precincts polled. In some cases, the discrepancy was as high as 17.7%. That is, of course, far outside of the margin of expected error and certainly worthy of further investigation by officials.

The creators of the poll, along with the analysts of the results and the authors of the study, seem to have gone out of their way to preempt the usual reasons for questioning and/or dismissing the methodology and findings of such polls. For example, as noted in the group's press release [emphasis added]...

Data was collected through exit polls in 19 Los Angeles County precincts on Election Day, 2008. Voters leaving the polls were asked to fill out a simplified paper ballot anonymously and deposit it into a locked box; 6,326 voters did so, a sample larger than that for the entire state of California in the exit poll used by news outlets around the country to predict election outcomes.

The Election Verification Exit Poll (EVEP) itself was designed to address the propensity of voters to lie to exit pollsters, as has been suggested of late when official exit polls failed to match up with official results in recent elections. The EVEP was conducted anonymously. As voters exited the polling place, they were asked to fill out a simplified ballot echoing the votes they had just cast, and to place it into a locked box. Therefore, the ballots did not include any identifying information, and thus, those overseeing the poll --- at either the polling place, or later when the EVEP ballots were counted by hand --- would have no way to tie votes to voters. That process is in contrast with official media exit polling where pollsters directly ask voters to reveal how they voted.

While the EVEP process can't guarantee that voters still wouldn't lie in their anonymous responses, or make errors on their exit poll ballot, the likelihood is believed to be greatly lowered. The discrepancies reported from those EVEP results give cause for serious concern --- particularly as other initiatives on the ballot failed to show similar discrepancies. Only Prop 8 was off by this kind of margin.

The authors of the report which asks, "Was California's Proposition 8 Election Rigged?" also conservatively, and appropriately, note at the opening of their introduction [emphasis in original]:

This report is meant as a warning. It does not provide conclusive proof of election tampering, since such "proof" would be embedded with the memory cards and computer code which are regarded as proprietary secrets and strictly off-limits to examination. But what is revealed here is strong enough to suggest that legislators, secretaries of state, attorneys general, and the public must pay close attention to what is reported in all future elections. Candidates entering upcoming elections should especially read and understand this report and take notice of the current state of our electoral system.
The bottom line is: with electronic equipment counting our votes, we cannot know whether the official results are accurate. Multiple analyses of vote tabulations from the past several elections caution us that they are not.

The main statistical analysis of the data was provided by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D., who, as author of Witness To A Crime: A Citizens' Audit of An American Election , is no stranger to questionable elections. In Witness to a Crime, Phillips painstakingly examined and investigated the actual ballots from the 2004 Presidential Election in Ohio, finding more than enough anomalies and clear evidence of fraud to have flipped the entire election in Bush's favor. (It should be noted again here, that had just six votes, in each Ohio precincts, been recorded for Kerry instead of Bush in 2004, we'd have had someone else in the White House for the ensuing four years.)

Hayes is also conservative in his analysis of the data, noting a number of possible reasons for the apparent disparities in the vote count in Los Angeles, far and away the largest voting jurisdiction in the state (as well as in the country). As summarized at WasProp8Straight.org:

The study analyzes four possible reasons for this disparity:

  • a basic flaw in the exit poll methodology;
  • many voters lying on the questionnaire;
  • a non-representative sample of voters responding; or
  • the official results being erroneous or fraudulent

The study then painstakingly demonstrates why the first three possibilities are very unlikely to be the cause of the disparity, leaving only the final one.

A quick review of the "Overview" section of the study's executive summary, offers an idea why the report's findings certainly merit further investigation:

The initial results released by [official, national media exit pollsters] Edison-Mitofsky, immediately after the poll closings in California, presumably before any adjustments in the numbers were made to conform to outcomes (see section I, above), indicated a defeat of Proposition 8. The official election results from the Secretary of State's office, [updated link] http://www.sos.ca.gov/el...v/2008_general/index.htm, (and of course the final and conforming Edison-Mitofsky exit poll totals) declared Proposition 8 to have passed.

Edison-Mitofsky results for the state: 48% Yes - 52% No.
Election Day official results for the state announced the night of the election: 52.2% Yes - 47.8% No.
The final certified results for the state (29 days later): 52.3% Yes - 47.7% No.
Election Day official results for L.A. County: 50.4% Yes - 49.6% No
Random 1% tally results for L.A. county: 48% Yes - 52% No*
The final certified results for L.A. County: 50.04% Yes - 49.96% No.
Election Day official results for the 10 sites in L.A. County that were polled: 47.2% Yes - 52.79% No
The EVEP results in the 10 polled L.A. sites: 39.46% Yes - 60.54 No.
The final certified results for the 10 polled sites: 47% Yes - 53% No.

* California has a mandated random 1% hand tally, an "audit" of 1% of the precincts in each county. Fifty one precincts in L.A. County were included in the 1% manual tally; none were precincts included in the EVEP project.

On one hand this new information is disturbing if only as a significant indication that hundreds of thousands of Californians may have had their civil rights taken away as a result of a possibly fraudulent and/or erroneously tabulated election. On another level, the potentially even more disturbing issue is that nearly every election in every jurisdiction in this country now relies almost exclusively on non-transparent election technology that makes it virtually impossible for citizens to know with any certainty that their elections have been tabulated accurately.

One such election, next week's Special Election for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, will similarly rely on easily-hacked, oft-failed and non-transparent optical-scan paper ballot systems and computerized tabulators, rather than human beings who can oversee results as they are tabulated by hand. But more on that election soon, no doubt. [Update 1/15/09: As promised, more on concerns about the voting systems to be used in that important, "toss-up" race now here...]

As The BRAD BLOG noted, as early as Election Night in 2008, there were enough prima facie anomalies in the Prop 8 election that close scrutiny of results was more than warranted (as should be the case in any election frankly, even though our current election system makes such oversight by citizens next to impossible.)

VelvetRevolution.us [of which The BRAD BLOG is a co-founder] did some investigation early on, and found that, at the very least, there were reasons to be concerned about the veracity of the results. VR found, and reported to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office, a variety of irregularities ranging from voter complaints to failure of elections officials to follow post-election procedures mandated by Bowen's own Top-To-Bottom Review of the state's electronic voting systems.

(Bowen's office did not immediately reply to our request for comment on this study. They declined to investigate the matters the matters of concern on the Prop 8 initiative which VR brought to their attention following the election.)

WasProp8Straight.org is calling for, among other actions, an investigation, which they say "is warranted into how the fraud or gross errors happened."

Since most of California's counties now use paper ballots, such an investigation could actually be carried out (unlike in many other states where no such ballots actually exist), even though there is no way to verify the authenticity of ballots so long after election night, more than a year ago.

(That's just one reason why VR, in their DieboldReturnOurMoney.com campaign, is also calling for accountability from Bowen, Attorney General Jerry Brown, and Diebold, Inc., who has admitted that their paper ballot optical-scan voting systems fail to meet federal voting system standards. Their systems, unfortunately, will be used across the state of Massachusetts in next Tuesday's Special Election there.)

The authors of the new report sum up the general concern of using such systems smartly:

It is too late to change the official results of Proposition 8 but it is not too late to recognize the current vulnerabilities of computerized voting throughout the United States. Our election officials who have been entrusted with the responsibility to run transparent elections are not doing so; counting votes inside black boxes renders observation of the tabulation process impossible. Even the computer log books and the like are strictly off limits to examination. The candidates and the citizens cannot know that official election results are reliable.
Electronic election equipment remains in use despite persistent evidence of computer failures, election rigging and hacking, despite the control of our elections by equipment vendors with established partisan proclivities...Because verification by observation has been precluded by computerization, only indirect or statistical methods of verification are available.
The evidence, in this paper and elsewhere, is strong that computerized vote-counting cannot be trusted to support our democracy. Not only is further investigation warranted but a return to a fully observable vote-counting process is imperative. Our democracy will not survive if we cannot know that our election results are accurate and honest.

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