November 2015 Anomalies

Anomaly: (noun) A deviation from the common or expected rule, type, or form; an odd, peculiar, or strange condition or circumstance. 

WeatherAnomaly.jpgOur language needs the word 'anomaly' because we occasionally encounter things we didn't expect and don't understand. We cannot call them mistakes and we cannot call them facts, because we don't know what they are. 

In most activities governed by common sense, we don't get upset about anomalies. We get curious; we stop to investigate. Take your credit card to a city you don't usually visit, charge a few purchases, and notice how quickly your credit card company notices the anomaly and freezes your account until you confirm that it's you who is using your card.

When scientists notice an anomaly in their preliminary findings, they check their calculations to make sure they didn't goof up. If they find an error, they fix it. If they  don't find an error, they investigate to see what happened. They typically don't consider their work complete until they have corrected or explained any anomalies.

Elsewhere, elections anomalies are investigated. In emerging democracies, international election observers call for further investigation when Election-Night results show anomalies. If the government is responsible, it investigates and finds out: Did the voters actually deliver a big election surprise; did something go wrong; or did someone tamper with the results?

Unfortunately in America, we don't have international observers to maintain reasonable standards. Regular citizens like you and me are responsible for holding our election officials accountable, and we pooh-pooh anomalies. If the voting machines declare challenger Jefferson to be the winner when popular incumbent Washington was ahead in the polls the day before the election, we shrug. If Washington wants to question the count, it's up to him. It's not as if it was OUR votes that might have been miscounted, right?


At this writing, anomalies have been noted in the November 3 elections in Kentucky and Ohio. I'll compile the facts here and update this post when and if there are any investigations or findings. (Sadly, I doubt I'll need to write any updates, but hope springs eternal.)

ReceiptAnomaly.jpgKentucky Governor's Race

Kentucky's routinely unverified (like Wisconsin's) voting-machine output gave the governor's office to Republican Matt Bevin, a Tea Party favorite, over Democrat Jack Conway. If certified as the final, accurate election result, this will make Bevin only the second GOP governor in the state in forty years. The current governor, a Democrat, did not run for re-election. Bevin had mounted an unsuccessful primary challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell last year; Conway is currently the state's Attorney General. An independent candidate came in a distant third, and was not considered a factor in the outcome.

Fox News reported that Bevin, "a48-year-old investment manager, has never held public office and was shunned by the state's Republican political establishment when he challenged McConnell in the 2014 Senate primary. He never took any meaningful steps to repair those relationships after the race, often deflecting assistance from party officials and likely affecting his fundraising ability. Bevin's campaign was mostly self-funded, and he (did not) court influential donors."

Three anomalies have been noted so far:

  1. Six state-level races were on the ballot--Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Auditor, Treasurer and Commissioner of Agriculture. Republicans won four; Democrats won two.  The electronically tabulated results showed an expected pattern--the Governor's race got the largest number of total votes, and the total number of votes declined as the races went down the ballot. Among the three races at the top of the ballot (Governor, with 973,591 total votes; Secretary of State with 964,098 votes; and Attorney General with 956,933 votes), an odd pattern emerged. In each of the other two top races, the Democratic candidate was reported to have received more votes than the Democratic candidate for Governor. If the electronic tabulations are correct, tens of thousands of voters cast votes for a Democratic Secretary of State, a Democratic Attorney General, and a Tea Party governor. It's possible, but an anomaly.
  2. Multiple pre-election polls agreed that Conway was leading by anywhere between 2 and 5 percentage points during the week before the election. One statewide poll was predicting a tie. The electronic tabulations gave Bevin a 9-percentage-point victory, a difference of between 11-14 points from the polls. It's possible, but an anomaly. 
  3. An as-yet-incomplete county-by-county analysis of the reported election results may show evidence of a shift of votes from Conway to Bevin that is inexplicably concentrated in the largest precincts of the most heavily Democratic counties. That is, in Republican counties and in the smallest precincts in the Democratic counties, the percentage of votes going to Bevin shows no correlation to the total number of votes cast in the precinct. However, in the Democratic counties, the percentage of votes going to Bevin increases with the size of the precinct. It's possible, by chance or for some as-yet-unidentified reason, that precinct size correlates with partisan preference in Democratic counties but not Republican counties, but it's an anomaly.

Predictably, however, Conway quickly conceded about an hour after the polls close, before anyone could even notice any anomalies, never mind investigate them. He conceded before making any effort to ensure the votes of his supporters (or anyone else) had been counted correctly. An hour after the polls closed, Conway announced that "respected the results", and he called Bevin to wish him well, and to tell him "this Democrat is at your disposal."

Ohio Marijuana Referendum

I rather like this anomaly, because it doesn't have the right/left, Republican/Democrat aspect that so routinely impairs objective assessments of other anomalies. While the referendum legalized recreational marijuana, it gave control of marijuana production and sales to a few big investors. So socially conservative Republicans opposed the referendum; pro-big-business Republicans supported it. Libertarians mostly liked it; anti-big business liberals mostly disliked it. Ohio's Secretary of State, who has close control of Ohio's vote-counting computers, openly opposed it.

On Election Night as the precinct totals came through the electronic reporting channels to the Ohio Secretary of State's office, that office was intermittently providing updates to the state's news media, which were posting them to their websites. A few intrigued citizens were capturing and saving the screen images, one pair of which is shown in this image:


Clearly, when an additional 6% of the precincts add 287,851 votes to the total, it cannot possibly increase the 'no' votes by more than 600,000 or decrease the yes votes by any amount. Other citizens were capturing similarly anomalous results from other news outlets.

Accurate vote counts? Not possible. Something is wrong--but what? Reporting errors by the news outlets? Maybe. A temporary hiccough in the Secretary of State's computer that did not affect the final accuracy? Maybe. Deliberate vote-flipping? Also possible.


The point of describing these anomalies is not to prove, or even allege, electronic elections fraud.

The point is to highlight the fact that it is only in elections that anomalies like these are predictably and routinely allowed to go without investigation or resolution. 

In business or in any other government function, anomalies such as these would be detected, investigated, and resolved routinely with no hesitation, drama, or complaining. The responsible managers would consider it a normal part of their normal job to monitor the accuracy of their computerized systems, and to correct any output affected by glitches, errors, or manipulation. The parties who might be harmed by possibly erroneous computer output would not have to sue, demand recounts, or jump through any hoops to get the managers of the computers to verify and if necessary correct the computer error.

Insanely, it is only in elections that we blithely assume the raw computer output is so reliable accurate that we don't have to check it even when it looks funky.

Electronic elections thieves--do you suppose there are any?--surely love that.

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