In the Margins: Recounts, Victory and Error in the 2000 and 2004 U.S. Elections

41 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2008  

Philip N. Howard

University of Washington - Department of Communication; University of Washington - Henry. M. Jackson School of International Studies; University of Washington - The Information School; University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute; University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Date Written: November 3, 2008

Abstract

In very close elections, the margin of error for the system of collecting and counting votes may be greater than the margin of victory for a candidate, such that recounts are unable to determine winners. We identify the electoral contests in which the margin of victory for the winning candidate was less than the margins of error for technologies and organizations that administered the election: in 2000, forty eight Electoral College votes, fifteen US House races, one US Senate seat, and one Governor; in 2004, sixteen Electoral College votes, four US House races, one US Senate seat, and one Governor. In each case, the legitimacy of electoral outcomes comes more from elections officials than the electorate, because in very close races the voting process cannot reveal electoral intent. We evaluate three ways of measuring error in an election. First, we theorize organizational error, and calculate a residual vote rate as one way of expressing error in election administration. Second, we theorize technology error, and calculate a residual vote rate as one way of expressing error in the voting technologies. Finally, we theorize a form of user error, and calculate a ratio of Election Day incidents to voting-eligible population as one way of expressing user error. We compare the strengths and weaknesses of these metrics. Public policy solutions are offered, such as run-off elections, standardized data reporting about error rates, more rigorous exit polling, and open source technology solutions.

Keywords: Recount, Voting Technology, Election Errors, Close Elections

Suggested Citation

Howard, Philip N., In the Margins: Recounts, Victory and Error in the 2000 and 2004 U.S. Elections (November 3, 2008). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1294838 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1294838

Philip N. Howard (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Department of Communication ( email )

Seattle, WA 98195
United States
2062216532 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.philhoward.org

University of Washington - Henry. M. Jackson School of International Studies ( email )

Seattle, WA
United States

University of Washington - The Information School ( email )

Box 353350
Seattle, WA 98195
United States

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

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