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October 2004
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November 2004

Manhattan's Mandate

I was just checking out the results of local elections on the Journal New site -- The New York Journal News is a paper that covers Westchester, Rockland, & Putnam counties -- and discovered that they have the New York State Presidential Election results broken down by county and, for NYC, by borough.

Remember the tiresome wingnut refrain that those of use who oppose Bush just don't remember September 11th? How would we expect those who best remember 9/11 to vote in the presidential election? On the one hand, New Yorkers tend to be liberals; on the other hand NYC elects Republican mayors with some frequency. And on that all-important third hand 9/11 is supposed to have changed everything and also Manhattan was the site of the Republican convention.

So what would you guess Bush was able to draw in Manhattan? 50% of the vote? 40%? 30%? 20%? Nope. With all precincts reporting, Bush drew just 95,362 votes in Manhattan -- 16.61%. Manhattan told him to fuck off.

I would be curious to know if there is any other metropolitan area anywhere in which Bush did so poorly.

MEANWHILE, Fafblog is full of fun:

The election results have come in and they have surprised no one... no one on the side of Giblets that is! It is Giblets in a landslide! Giblets by a whopping three percentage points! Only 49% of the population rejected Giblets! VICTORY! AMERICA HAS SPOKEN!

With this broad mandate, it is time to push aside the mealy-mouthed timid campaign rhetoric Giblets has toyed with before! Giblets will not be "conciliatory" after this historic moment! Tariffs on reading! A flat tax on gay sex! Mandatory prayer before monuments to the Ten Commandments in every class room! A war in every garage, a tortured Arab civilian in every pot! The streets will run with the blood of liberals!

But do not think Giblets will continue to divide the country. Oh no. The days of the bitterly partisan "pro-Giblets" and "anti-Giblets" Americas are over. Giblets is a uniter, not a divider. And he will unite America... UNDER THE CRUSHING FORCE OF HIS IRON HEEL!

Outnumbered Soldiers Watched Looting of Explosives: "It was complete chaos."

From CNN:

Explosives were looted from the Al-Qaqaa ammunitions site in Iraq while outnumbered U.S. soldiers assigned to guard the materials watched helplessly, soldiers told the Los Angeles Times.

About a dozen U.S. troops were guarding the sprawling facility in the weeks after the April 2003 fall of Baghdad when Iraqi looters raided the site, the newspaper quoted a group of unidentified soldiers as saying.

U.S. Army reservists and National Guardsmen witnessed the looting and some soldiers sent messages to commanders in Baghdad requesting help, but received no reply, they said.

"It was complete chaos. It was looting like L.A. during the Rodney King riots," one officer said.

Arianna on the Election Results

Much as I'm interested in anatomizing what went wrong in the 2004 voting, I'm with Arianna Huffington on this one:

This election was not stolen. It was lost by the Kerry campaign.

The reason it's so important to make this crystal clear — even as Kerry's concession speech is still ringing in our ears — is that to the victors go not only the spoils but the explanations. And the Republicans are framing their victory as the triumph of conservative moral values and the wedge cultural issues they exploited throughout the campaign.

But it wasn't gay marriage that did the Democrats in; it was the fatal decision to make the pursuit of undecided voters the overarching strategy of the Kerry campaign.

This meant that at every turn the campaign chose caution over boldness so as not to offend the undecideds who, as a group, long to be soothed and reassured rather than challenged and inspired.

The fixation on undecided voters turned a campaign that should have been about big ideas, big decisions, and the very, very big differences between the worldviews of John Kerry and George Bush — both on national security and domestic priorities — into a narrow trench war fought over ludicrous non-issues like whether Kerry had bled enough to warrant a Purple Heart.

This timid, spineless, walking-on-eggshells strategy — with no central theme or moral vision — played right into the hands of the Bush-Cheney team's portrayal of Kerry as an unprincipled, equivocating flip-flopper who, in a time of war and national unease, stood for nothing other than his desire to become president.

Yes, sure it was really close, if things had gone a little differently, or if Diebold's machines weren't in use, Kerry might have won by 15 votes. But given the nature of the Bush presidency -- the man is a flaming incompetent -- it shouldn't have been close. Kerry blew it over the summer. True, Bush has the incumbent advantage and the advantage of being the wartime president he dreamed of becoming. But Kerry spent much of the summer on really pointless things.

(Via The Gamer's Nook.)

AND FURTHER TO THE SUBJECT OF ELECTION INFRASTRUCTURE, The Onion has this to offer: U.S. Inspires World With Attempt At Democratic Election. (Via Glen Engel-Cox.)

Ohio Voting Infrastructure

From the comments section at Ohio Voter Suppression News:

I was in Youngstown on Election Day and I visited a number of polling places with Election Protection. The Dep't of Elections was woefully unprepared for this election. Long lines caused waits which were at least 2 hours long during the midday period, traditionally the slowest period. They simply did not have enough machines. The ones they had often went down or mis-registered votes. People pressed Kerry and the confirmation screen showed Bush. Many people didn't realize there was a confirmation screen so who knows how many votes were lost that way. The polls were understaffed with workers (mostly older folk) who had little or no familiarity with computers or the election rules. There were Reupublican challengers at many polling places but they did not challenge many voters - they didn't need to. The voters were suppressed by the voting infrastructure which made it a great chore to vote.

While this election had the heaviest voter turnout since 1968, nationwide, we are really only talking about a 60% turnout instead of the 54% turnout in 2000, an increase of only 11% above the rate of growth of the population. Now admittedly, this increase was probably not uniformly distributed.

But consider this: the wait times for voting have got to figure into existing computer models of voting behavior. What these long wait times mean is not that vast legions of new voters came out of the woodwork, say, doubling the number of voters, but rather mostly that those voters who turned out in places where the infrastrucure is poor were much more reluctant to be discouraged from voting: they refused to leave. That a moderate increase in voter turnout can produce wait-times measured in hours means that there are some areas where voting is habitually discouraged.

This has got to figure into partisan strategies for influencing election infrastructure. The math is just too easy for it not to. X number of minutes to vote times Y number of voters times Z voting machines produces the total time necessary for a given numberof people to vote at a polling place. From there, you can calculate wait times. And from there, it's not too hard to plug in factors like how long the average voter is willing to wait. If no voter is willing to wait more than, say, 15 minutes, you can have relatively short lines. If the voter is willing to wait an hour, the lines get longer. If a significant percentage of voters are unwilling to leave without voting, you get the kind of catastrophic waits seen in Ohio. All of this depends on a willingness to exclude voters from participation. What I see from the wait times in this election is a process that relies on it.

Also, there was an awareness the age of the poll workers combined with th increasing complexity of the voting process would pose a problem. See this USA Today article from August:

Panel cites poll workers' age as problem

The biggest threat to November's presidential election is not balky voting machines or a terrorist attack, but the potential for confusion and mistakes by the nation's aging corps of 1.5 million precinct poll workers, federal election officials say.

The current corps of poll workers is well short of the 2 million needed for a national election. The average age of a U.S. poll worker is 72, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

"If they don't get it right, someone could be denied their opportunity to vote," says Paul DeGregorio, one of four members of the commission. The panel was created by Congress in 2002 to make sure federal elections run smoothly. Already this year, problems have cropped up during primary elections, he notes.

In addition, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 has imposed new procedures for elections, including ID requirements for first-time voters who registered by mail and provisional ballots for voters not immediately found on voter rolls.

"There's a growing complexity at the polling place," says DeForest Soaries, the commission chairman. "If all we do in November is what we did in 2000, that's going to be a problem."

Here is the Election Assistance Commission's Best Practices Tool Kit.

In July, the Caltech-MIT voting Technology Project issued a report, Immediate Steps to Avoid Lost Votes in the 2004 Presidential Election: Recommendations for the Election Assistance Commission (pdf; html), which contains this interesting sentence:

According to the U.S. Census in 2000, approximately one million registered voters said that they did not vote because the polling place lines were too long or the hours for voting were too short.

Howard Dean This Afternoon

I like this item from the Democracy for America blog. This is Howard Dean this afternoon:

Montana, one of the reddest states, has a new Democratic governor.

First-time candidates for state legislatures from Hawaii to Connecticut beat incumbent Republicans.

And a record number of us voted to change course—more Americans voted against George Bush than any sitting president in history.

Today is not an ending.

Regardless of the outcome yesterday, we have begun to revive our democracy. While we did not get the result we wanted in the presidential race, we laid the groundwork for a new generation of Democratic leaders.

Democracy for America trained thousands of organizers and brought new leadership into the political process. And down the ballot, in state after state, we elected Dean Dozen candidates who will be the rising stars of the Democratic Party in years ahead.

Tens of millions of us are disappointed today because we put so much of ourselves into this election. We donated money, we talked to friends, we knocked on doors. We invested ourselves in the political process.

That process does not end today. These are not short-term investments. We will only create lasting change if that sense of obligation and responsibility becomes a permanent part of our lives.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

We will not be silent.

Thank you for everything you did for our cause in this election. But we are not stopping here.

Governor Howard Dean, M.D.


I was just on BBC Africa Live talking about the presidential election. I think I had a good soundbite ready. Having blogged earlier in the day was great preparation. I used my line about Ohio not being a fledgling democracy; going on to say that Ohio election officials should have been much better at equipping the polls. I did not try to talk about Nash equalibria.

What I found most interesting about the program was listening to election observers from Africa expressing concern about American electoral process. The flyer I blogged yesterday, instructing Kerry voters to vote Nov. 3rd, was raised by an election observer from Ghana who was appalled that election officials in Ohio's Franklin County laughed off the flyer instead of treating it with the seriousness he thought was appropriate.

Seen off Rt. 117 in Chappaqua, New York

My daughter's preschool is about two blocks from the Clinton's house on Old House Lane in Chappaqua. This morning when I dropped off Elizabeth, I saw this home-made sign at the intersection of Orchard Ridge and Rt. 117. I stopped to take a picture. (I saw the back of the sign when taking the picture. On the back it says Proud to be an American with a picture of an American flag.) The same house had a home-made sign that said Welcome Home, Mr. President. when Bill Clinton was released from the hospital after heart surgery not long ago.

MEANWHILE, computers have been giving me a really hard time this morning. Movable Type has been running even more slowly than usual, making it extremely difficult and time consuming to fix typos on my previous post. And it was like pulling teeth to get the Hillary picture out of Sprint's PictureMail service. My brain is running slowly because I have a bad cold and a sinus headache. But computers don't have this excuse. Anyway, I'm glad to finally get this picture up.

Also, the BBC has an appointment to interview me by phone about the election at 1PM my time. I'm not sure how they picked me. They may have called because of my blog or my books, but for all I know they could also have picked me out of the phone book.

What We're Looking at Here Is a Nash Equilibrium

From Kevin Drum in the wee hours comes this insightful post:

A COUNTRY IN AMBER....Based on how the final few states are looking at the moment, the most remarkable thing about this presidential election is how nearly identical it is to 2000. Right now, it looks like no more than two or three states will flip from red to blue or vice versa.

As I said the other day, a difference of one or two percentage points makes a big objective difference, since one guy wins and the other doesn't, but it means almost nothing about the direction of the country. We're almost exactly where we were four years ago.

Which, really, is an amazing thing. You'd think an event like 9/11 would act as a catalyst that blows apart existing political dynamics and realigns the electorate, but instead it seems to have cemented it into place. Not only are we at the same place we were four years ago, but the divisions are actually more entrenched than ever.

It hardly seems possible that this can last forever, but if 9/11 didn't realign the electorate, what will?

And indeed, I can name four or five things that seem as if they've changed everything, but perhaps they've changed nothing. Perhaps US politics is locked into a Nash Equlilbrium, a concept in game theory originated by John Nash. Wikipedia has a good description of the Nash Equilibrium. Here is the most crucial bit:

A Nash equilibrium for a mixed strategy game is stable if a small change (specifically a infinitesimal change) in probabilities for one player leads to a situation where two conditions hold:
1. the player who did not change has no better strategy in the new circumstance

2. the player who did change is now playing with a strictly worse strategy
If these cases are both met, then a player with the small change in their mixed-strategy will return immediately to the Nash equilibrium. The equilibrium is said to be stable. If condition one does not hold then the equilibrium is unstable. If only condition one holds then there are likely to be an infinite number of optimal strategies for the player who changed. John Nash showed that the latter situation could not arise in a range of well-defined games.

Regardless of how Ohio comes out, neither political party got what they wanted from this election. That much is obvious.

(And it isn't pretty to have the election decided by a state where the wait to vote could be up to eight hours. Presumably, local government knows how many registered voters live in each precinct. There is no good excuse for this I can think of. Is Ohio some kind of fledgling democracy? Surely they've held elections before and have the know-how to apportion voting machines. Yes? For places that had really long waits someone must have set a maximum figure for acceptable voter turnout that is significantly below 100%.)

One somewhat creepy aspect of this election was the extent to which the candidates were similar. The New York Time remarks:

Since World War II, no two candidates have had such strikingly similar backgrounds of class and privilege, with so many points of overlap. These two not only attended Yale University two years apart, but were also members of the same secret society there, Skull and Bones.

There is a certain uncanniness to a political evolutionary process that would produce such similar candidates. This was not a Coke vs. Pepsi election in which the candidates were marketed as being as similar as possible like Bush vs. Gore. But in the fundamental things that we think or as molding human character, they are more similar than Bush and Gore.

Regardless of how Ohio turns out, it seems to me the biggest question is how we're going to get out of this box. If in fact we are looking at a Nash equilibrium, the only way out is to think outside the box; WAY outside the box.

UPDATE: I see that Jordan Ellenberg (Princeton mathematician and novelist) was exploring this idea on a more limitied scale in Slate on October 25th.

A FURTHER THOUGHT: A couple of people who know something about math have suggested that I'm oversimplifying. Well, of course I'm oversimplifying. The presidential election is way too complicated a system to make detailed mathematical arguments regarding Nash equilibria. But like the concept of fractals, where the existence of the concept gives you a feeling of recognition when you look at (say) a piece of cauliflower, I find the Nash equilibrium concept very suggestive of the current shape of US electoral politics.

Glad I Didn't Stay Up

I'm up briefly at 2AM because my cough medicine wore off. An hour ago, Kevin Drum wrote:

CNN just reported that there are 200,000 provisional ballots in Ohio. So if anyone wins by less than 100,000 or so, we won't know the winner until the provisionals are counted. And who knows how long that could take?

UPDATE: Apparently the answer is 10-11 days.

What a mess. And I see that even though the networks have calld Florda for Bush, even Florida is going to take a while: Florida official: Tally of absentee ballots may stretch into Thursday

To Stay Up or Go to Bed?

I'm back from the airport. David, who is flying to France, wanted to listen radio most of the way to the airport. We were listening to 1010 WINS News's really inane coverage. While we were driving the polls in various places on the East Coast were closing. When polls would close they would begin calling states for one or another candidtate but with no information about the margins or what percentage of the vote had been tallied. Coming back, I listened to music instead.

I've got a really bad cold, so I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to last this evening. When I was driving, I was really eager to get back to my computer and find out what is going on. But now that I'm here, my bed is looking awfully inviting. Also, now that I'm home and not on the highway, I can take cold medicine, which will probably make me drowsy.

Also, it seems to me that the media is going to be a lot more cautious about calling the race, given what foolish mistakes were made four years ago. (Never mind that people are still voting and will be for a while.) I feel lucky not to have TV reception. If radio was that bad, I can only imagine what the TV coverage is like.

Looking around, I think I would be best off going to bed now and then checking on things at about 3AM. There's too little conclusive data available and I know too muh about numbers to think that 10PM's data is that much superior to the 2PM exit poll numbers. It's not soup yet.

See You After 9:30 PM

A lot of the big blogs are complaining of heavy traffic and there aren't even any real results yet. (I haven't been able to get Josh Marshall in hours.)

I have to drive David to Newark Airport around 7. Here's my plan: after 9:30 I'll help track the incoming information. See you after 9:30.

The Onion Nails It

This is the satirical story in The Onion from earlier this week: Republicans Urge Minorities To Get Out And Vote On Nov. 3

The Onion Staff must have gotten a sneak peak at the Republican play book, because look at this from Ohio Voter Suppression News today, election day:

My boss was canvassing this morning for ACT, putting out GOTV door tags in a predominantly black neighborhood on the near east side of Columbus. Repugs had been there first, putting up door hangers that read: Vote for George Bush/Dick Cheney on Tuesday, November 2: Vote for John Kerry/John Edwards on Wednesday, November 3. Incredible!

Cheryl Morgan on the American Zeitgeist

I think there's something intensely revealing about our current state of affairs in this passage:

While I was away Kevin was practicing for becoming a Master Costumer by entering the Halloween contest at work. He won a nice bottle of bubbly, which I shall enjoy drinking at some point. But I was more interested in his report of one of his fellow contestants. In America Halloween is an excuse for any type of fancy dress, not just spooky stuff. So one of Kevin's co-workers came as a hippy. But her "Make Love, Not War" placard was written in Italian so as not to cause offence.

Two things occur to me here. Firstly, while it was perfectly OK to say "Make Love, Not War" in America back in the 60's, now it is regarded as offensive and liable to cost you your job. And second, it is assumed that if you write something in a foreign language (even if it is pretty damned obvious what it is likely to say), Bush supporters won't have a clue what it means.

Being only 42, I can't say what would and wouldn't endanger your job in the 1960s. I entered the first grade in 1968. But I think Cheryl captures the essence of this historical moment.

The Day Before

There are a number of interesting things going on.

Josh Marshall reports that an outfit called the Florida Leadership Council has issued a Beslan-inspired scare flyer presumably intend to illustrate what will happen if Bush doesn't win. Go to their web site and listen to their sound effects. I think I know what they have in mind for people like me. Perhaps the rise of rightwing terrorism really is on the way. That's certainly the vibe I get from their site. (I'm a little surprised Josh didn't mention the gunshot sound effects.)

Kevin Drum and Ronald Brownstein (writing for the LA Times) have written pices along similar lines, pointing out that regardless of how the election turns out tomorrow, as an attempt to expand the Republican base, the Bush administration has been a failure.

Atrios notes that an Ohio judge has barred vote challengers from the polls.