on the American election - a query and a comment

Jose G. Perez jg_perez at SPAMbellsouth.net
Sun Nov 26 07:42:02 MST 2000

>>Around 51%. The highest turnout in decades. Some attribute it to the
closeness, I
personally think it is because people (like many on this list) who otherwise
would have
stayed home voted for Nader.<<

Don't believe it for one minute that the number of people who voted was "the
highest in decades."

There are big problems with the voter turn out statistic, which make it
accurate only within a couple of percent. First, the percentage is usually
expressed as a percentage of the VAP, or voting age population, which is
derived from the census. The overall census count is known to have an error
on the order of 2-4%. Moreover, all the indications are that this undercount
has been growing over time, i.e., that the undercount in 1960 was smaller
than in 1980, and in 1980 smaller than in 2000. This produces a systematic
bias on the upside of the figures.

Second, many states do not release the number who actually voted but rather
the number of ballots counted. As the Florida case shows, not every vote
counts, and especially not if you're Black, or poor, or Hispanic, or an
immigrant, or elderly. Accidental factors, like the cluelesness of a county
or state elections clerk in designing a user-friendly ballot, or in writing
good instructions, can tremendously affect the number of valid ballots cast,
which skews numbers on the downside. As the situation in Palm Beach and
Duval counties illustrate, somewhere like 5% of the votes can wind up being
annulled under such circumstances, and depending on the state, we may or may
not ever hear about it.

Then there are technological factors. The punch card balloting in use in
much of the country produces results which are, at best, approximations.
Judging by what's been reported on the recounts, a small percent of the
voters, say 2-3%, are not successful in completely separating the chad from
the card, and these "hanging" and "pregnant" chads are not read by the
machines doing the vote counting. And I'm willing to bet that there have
been occasions where the cards were not up to snuff and the percentage of
votes thrown out was significantly higher. These are, of course, Democrat
voters in their majority, judging from the anecdotal reports of the
population served by the precincts these votes were most prevalent in.

That, of course, skews figures on the downside, although perhaps for
comparative purposes, it can be assumed that in any given year there will be
a similar number of such fuck ups as in other years and thus the numbers are
comparable. But because of the tightness of this year's race, this has been
an unusually thorough count in several states, which makes the figures for
this year's vote not strictly comparable to those from previous years.

In addition, there is human and computer computational error. In several
counties in Florida, as well as in New Mexico, there were computational
errors which could have affected the outcome of the race. The TV networks
called the race for Bush in the pre-dawn hours of the Wednesday after the
election based on a computer error. With only a few percent left to count,
Bush's lead, which had been dwindling steadily in Florida over the hours as
results from very large, urban democratic precincts trickled in, suddenly
jumped up to 50,000 votes, and the pro-Republican Fox news channel called
the Florida race for Gore. The other three networks then felt pressured to
do the same, and, looking at the numbers, it seemed reasonable enough.

The number, though, was a computer error, one county wound up giving
Gore -10,000 votes, (that's MINUS 10,000) and for some reason this did not
get screened out by the VNS system, which passed on the totals to the
networks. The actual vote difference between the two men was somewhere
between 10,000 and 20,000, and this evaporated very quickly as the last
straggler precincts from heavily democratic Palm Beach, Broward and Dade
counties came in, winding up with a difference of about 1,200 votes. And
that number was dwarfed by the number of spoiled ballots, some 30,000 in
Palm Beach County alone, not to mention the "overvote" for Buchanan, who was
given the second punch hole on the voting card even though Gore was the
second candidate listed, and thus wound up with more than 3,000 votes in
Palm Beach instead of the several hundred that voted for him consciously.

There are two voter participation figures: first, the one done by VNS, the
election night consortium of the five networks. These were the people who
called the Florida race, first for Gore, uncalled it, called it for Bush,
and uncalled it again. The other is the committee for the study of the U.S.
electorate, which is just one guy, and he offers a number out to tenths of a
percent, i.e., three significant figures, which is extremely misleading. The
sources from which he derives his figure --state VAP's projected from the
census and, either total votes, total valid votes, total votes for
president, or total valid presidential votes, depending on the
jurisdiction-- simply do not have that degree of precision nor
election-to-election comparability. Some college profs also come up with
numbers that try to compensate for the known weaknesses in the source data,
and these also make it into the press.

Finally, the news media makes no attempt to hide its pro-election,
pro-two-party system bias. The figures you heard reported on TV and see in
the newspaper headlines are those that in some way or other "fit" with this
bias, which is why normally you hear so little about how many people
participated in the election. At any rate, even if VNS or this committee guy
in Washington came up with a figure for this year's election that is
slightly higher than the one four years ago, which was varyingly reported at
49, 50 or 51%, I doubt very much the figure is significantly different from
the one four years ago, statistically speaking.

This is especially noteworthy because of the new "motor voter" law which
allows people to register to vote when they renew their drivers license,
have dealings with the welfare bureaucracy, etc., instead of having to make
a separate trip to some obscure office in the county courthouse to sign up.
Despite the expectations of the Democrats, this law did not increase the
turnout except, perhaps, around the margins.

The most significant thing about the election to note is NOT that the voter
turnout did not change significantly, but that, just in two Florida counties
alone (Palm Beach and Duval) more than 40,000 votes of mostly poor, very
heavily Black and immigrant people were discounted because the election
authorities failed to provide a clear ballot or clear instructions. In Dade,
Broward and Palm Beach counties alone a similar number of ballots went
unread by the machine.

In addition, throughout various Florida jurisdictions, there have been many
documented complaints of discriminatory treatment against Blacks and

The Gore camp has studiously ignored these complaints on behalf of tens of
thousands of its voters. It has chosen to focus instead on getting a recount
in several counties so that the votes missed by the card-reading machines
can push him over the top. There were nearly 40,000 such votes in Dade,
Broward and Palm Beach counties.

In the largest of those counties, Miami-Dade, a mob organized by the
Republicans succeeded in intimidating the election authorities from carrying
out the actual recount. It should be noted that this county in particular
has had a history of electoral fraud, leading, among other things, to the
courts overturning the results of the last mayoral election in Miami.

In another of the counties, the provocations by Republican operatives have
been so great that one of them has been banned from the counting room.

The Republicans have also followed a clear and deliberate strategy of
challenging every ballot with even the slightest imagined irregularity
hoping to overwhelm the county canvassing board, which has to examine each
challenged ballot individually. The Republicans clearly hope to prevent the
boards from completing the recount in the allotted time. And this after
repeated Republican court challenges to the recounts, and a string of
rulings by Republican Secretary of State Kathleen Harris, co-chair of Bush's
Florida campaign and herself a candidate to be one of Bush's 25 Florida
electors in the electoral college. In between the Harris decisions, which
the Democrats had to go to court to overturn, and the Republican court
suits, they succeeded in delaying manual recounts for more than a week and a

The bottom line is that, if the votes were actually honestly counted, i.e.,
as the voters intended them to be, there is simply no question but that Gore
would have won Florida by a margin of several tens of thousands of votes,
and with it the presidency.

And there is no reason to think that the situation in Florida is
exceptional. Throughout the country, poor election procedures, outdated
technology, and just plain discriminatory treatment and intimidation,
systematically reduced Gore's votes, because all of these problems affect
working people, and especially Blacks, immigrants, Hispanics, and the
elderly, disproportionately. This does not even take into account that for
working people, and especially parents and most of all women workers with
children, getting out to vote in the allotted time is a daunting challenge,
in between juggling jobs, school schedules, getting their children fed and
so on.

The Democrats and Republican operatives have long been intimate with all
these details of how the election procedures systematically undercount and
discourage participation by working people (things which the rest of the
population is now finally learning about due to the extremely close Florida
vote). They have chosen to do nothing about them. And even in trying to stop
Bush from stealing Florida and with it the presidency, the Goreites have
sought the narrowest, most "technical" grounds possible, refusing to
challenge the outrageous, wholesale after-the-vote disenfranchisement of
Blacks, women and the elderly. Gore himself has explained it, saying he puts
the interests of  "the country," i.e., the capitalist system, ahead of his
own desire to be President.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Macdonald Stainsby" <mstainsby at tao.ca>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Saturday, November 25, 2000 7:08 PM
Subject: Re: on the American election - a query and a comment

> Comrades.
> What percentage of the voting population enrolled?

Those of voting age, without records, etc? Around 65% (if memory serves)

 What percentage of the
> enrolled actually voted?
Around 51%. The highest turnout in decades. Some attribute it to the
closeness, I
personally think it is because people (like many on this list) who otherwise
would have
stayed home voted for Nader.

>  From where I am sitting it looks as if the election will be given to
> Bush.

I get that smell, too. I think they are starting to realize that stability
could be in
questiuon without a "winner" soon.

> even within the general decay of bourgeois democracy in the USA that
> will be surely a remarkable act.  I am surprised that the Gore forces have
> kept going for so long.  Admittedly the White House is a pretty big trough
> - with room for lots and lots of snouts.

That, and there is no one that the ruling class *automatically* gravitates
towards. This
is, in part, the result of the ruling class being so successful in making
the parties
have virtually no difference. They do not know who to crown King. However,
it isn't over
for awhile yet, amazingly the Democrats are going to contest the result in
eventuality that the election is handed to the Bush team. Democracy in


> regards
> Gary

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