Scene: Escambia County Florida. Its Wednesday 12:15 AM, November 8th 2000. Over a dozen dedicated Americans are going over the county's 21,500 absentee ballots, many of them cast by America's men in uniform. By duplicated ballots that the machines are counting as overvotes and undervotes, but where the intent of the voter is clear, they are making certain that each voter has their intent properly recorded as part of this nation's strong tradition of democracy. They have been at it for hours, but will continue on until two A.M., until every ballot has been looked at two or three times, to make sure that every lrgal vote gets counted.


Scene: Escambia County Florida. Its Wednesday, 12:15 AM, November 8th, 2000. In a desperate search for votes, over a dozen political partisans are "duplicating" one of 9 of the county's 21,500 absentee ballots. The networks already called the election. The Governor said the call was wrong. The networks retract the call. And it's obvious that literally every vote counts. They've been looking at these ballot for hours already, 'finding" votes for their candidate. Ballots that are obviously overvoted get duplicated as ballots that are not duplicated. Well over a hundred of them. They keep at it until 2:00 AM, when it looks like their job is finished.

Two possible realities. Based on the data from the Miami Herald's examination of Florida's overvoted ballots, the second version of reality is what happened in Escambia County during the 2000 Presidential Elections. The results of the examination of the Escambia County ballots are, to put it bluntly, unexplainable by any means other than ballot tampering.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, over a dozen people worked until 2:00 AM duplicating over 2400 absentee ballots in Escambia County Florida. The duplicated ballots were then counted by the optically scanning tabulation equipment. Some ballots are examined two or three times. Those 2400 ballots represent over 11% of the absentee ballots cast in the county. At least 25 other counties duplicated ballots as well, but Escambia County accounted for almost one quarter of the duplicated ballots in the entire state.

In and of itself, the sheer number of absentee ballots duplicated in Escambia County might raise some eyebrows. And the fact that those 2400 ballots represented 11% of absentee ballots cast, and that Escambia accounted for such a large percentage of the duplicated ballots statewide, would doubtless raise some more.

But the results of all that ballot duplication do more than lead to skepticism. After 2400 absentee ballots were duplicated, not a single absentee ballot was overvoted for just two candidates. In other words, not one single absentee voter, out of 21,500 of them, marked their ballot for two candidates, and two candidates only. 296 of them marked their ballots three or more times. But not one of them marked it for two candidates only.

A few definitions.
A "mark" is anything that the optical scanning equipment might pick up as a vote. This includes erasure, stray marks, and marks in the "write-in" area (which, under Florida law is not considered a per se "vote" when determining if a ballot has been overvoted.)
A "valid vote" refers to a ballot that has been determined to represent a vote for a single candidate, and includes ballots with two or more marks that nevertheless show "voter intent".
A "double-marked" ballot is one that has two (and only two) marks, and may or may not be a valid vote.
A "double-voted" ballot refers to a "double-marked" ballot that has been determined to be overvoted by the Miami Herald.
A "triple-plus marked" ballot is a ballot that has three or more marks on it. Their status as actual overvotes (as determined by the Herald) cannot be ascertained. (For example, a ballot may contain two erasures, and an unerased mark, yet would have been determined by the Herald as a "valid vote" under the voter intent standard.)

When comparisons are made between Escambia and other counties, "average rates" and "normal rates" are rates for counties that are genuinely comparable to Escambia, unless otherwise noted. Escambia had a single column presidential ballot, and many other counties had the presidential candidates spread across two columns. The split-column counties had overvote rates four times higher than the single column counties, which would skew the averages in a way even less favorable to Escambia. When poll cast ballots are compared, only those counties that had single column presidential ballots and did not provide "overvote protection" are included in the statewide averages.

Statewide, the average rate at which absentee ballots were cast for two candidates was, at best, 1 double-voted ballot for every 460 (1/460) valid vote. The "normal" double voted/valid vote ratios for counties that are comparable to Escambia range from approximately 1:250 to 1:900. If there had been even one double-voted ballot in Escambia County, that ratio would be 1:21,222. No other county even comes close to that rate.

But the impossible numbers do not stop there. Escambia County, despite having the kind of equipment that could prevent overvoting at the polls, chose not to turn on that equipment (nor did Escambia look at these ballots for voter intent). As a result, there were at least 1110 double voted ballots-ballots that the Miami Herald determined were clearly marked for two separate candidates. The double-voted rate for poll cast votes was, at best 1/84. In other words, for every 84 Escambians who went to the polls and cast a ballot where voter intent could be discerned, there was one voter who cast a ballot with votes for two listed candidates. (The double-marked ballot rate was 1:29).

The number of comparable counties (single column presidential race and no overvote protection) is too limited to say what is normal, but Escambia's County's double-voted rate was above average-more people double-voted their ballots at the polls than the did people in comparable counties.

It is safe to say therefore, that the overall voter pool in Escambia County is not unique, or in any way prone to double-vote their ballots far less frequently than normal. Nor is there any reason to suspect that the voters who used absentee ballots in Escambia are somehow completely different from the voters who went to the polls there. The absentee voters were only slightly less prone than voters at the polls to overvote their ballots by marking it three or more (triple-plus) times. Escambia county's absentee voters did make a lot of mistakes (1 overvoted ballot for every 72 valid votes cast), they only made mistakes by triple-plus marking their ballots.

Although there is no direct relationship between double-voted and triple-plus marked ballots in the rest of Florida, there was no other county where there was fewer than one double-voted cast for every six triple-plus marked ballots, and the majority of comparable Florida counties had more than one double-voted absentee ballot for every triple-plus marked absentee ballot. Escambia County had no double-voted absentee ballots, and 296 triple-plus marked absentee ballots.

There is no rational way to explain how absentee voters in Escambia County completely avoided making the kind of mistake that accounted for about a third of the overvoted absentee ballots in comparable counties, and about 40% of the overvoted ballots cast at the polls in Escambia County itself.

Its virtually impossible to calculate the odds against the Escambia results not being the result of ballot tampering. You have to calculate the odds against there not being any double-voted absentee ballots out of 21,500 cast, and the odds against the absentee voter pool being completely different from the Escambia pool of voters who went to the polls and the odds against Escambia's absentee pool being completely different from the rest of the state's absentee pools. Then you would have to figure out how all these impossibilities relate to each other.

But you don't have to be a statistician to know that the numbers that came out of Escambia County do not happen unless ballots are tampered with. Understanding Escambia County requires no more statistical knowledge than understanding a pair of dice that rolls snake-eyes ten times in a row. You know the dice are fixed, the only reason to examine them is to get evidence about how they were fixed, and by whom. There is no question that Escambia County's absentee ballots must be investigated, the only question is whether its too late to catch the people who did it.

State wide double vote frequency 1:460 Escambia 0:21,222
ballots double-voted vs triple-marked-Escambia poll cast 2:5 Escambia absentee cast 0:296
absentee ballots double voted vs triple-marked-Comparable Counties 1:3 Escambia County 0:296

Paul Lukasiak