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The South Carolina Primary and Voting Machine Fraud 467

Posted by kdawson
from the good-ol'-politics dept.
cSeattleGameboy writes "South Carolina sure knows how to pick 'em. Alvin Greene is a broke, unemployed guy who is facing a felony obscenity charge. He made no campaign appearances and raised no money, but he is the brand new Democratic Senate nominee from South Carolina. Tom Schaller at FiveThirtyEight.com does a detailed analysis of how a guy like this wins a primary race, and many of the signs point to voting machine fraud. There seem to have been irregularities on all sides. 'Dr. Mebane performed second-digit Benford's law tests on the precinct returns from the Senate race. ... If votes are added or subtracted from a candidate's total, possibly due to error or fraud, Mebane's test will detect a deviation from this distribution. Results... showed that Rawl's Election Day vote totals depart from the expected distribution at 90% confidence. In other words, the observed vote pattern for Rawl could be expected to occur only about 10% of the time by chance. ... An unusual, non-random pattern in the precinct-level results suggests tampering, or at least machine malfunction, perhaps at the highest level. And Mebane is perhaps the leading expert on this very subject. Along with the anomalies between absentee ballot v. election day ballots..., something smells here.' Techdirt.com points out that South Carolina uses ES&S voting machines, which have had strings of problems before; and they have no audit trail."
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The South Carolina Primary and Voting Machine Fraud

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @02:51AM (#32575230)

    South Carolina voter registration is close to 50% AA according to NPR. Greene is black. Greene had the first position on the ballot. Rawl did not raise money or campaign. Rawl did not do basic opposition research to find out Greene's shortcomings before the election. It sounds like Rawl should have lost because he is a terrible candidate and basically assumed he would just win because he was the "establishment candidate". In case people have not noticed the "establishment candidates" haven't been doing particularly well lately.

  • Re:He Won! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chris Mattern (191822) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @02:57AM (#32575252)

    The problem I see with this being some kind of fraud - is what kind of idiot would choose, as their puppet, this person.

    The kind of "idiot" who wants a Democratic candidate that's sure to lose. The people who are alleging fraud are claiming that this is a scheme to ensure that the Republican incumbent is re-elected.

  • Re:He Won! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Berkyjay (1225604) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @03:12AM (#32575316)
    No matter how you want to look at it, this whole mess is very very irregular and makes no sense at all. It smells of fraud and if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck.......chances are that it's a duck. I also wouldn't put it passed the Republican party in SC to want to insure that DeMint beats down a black Democratic candidate by a very large margin. That would give him plenty of angles to spin this as an anti-Obama victory.
  • Re:Poor research (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @04:06AM (#32575506)

    but there is nothing else suspicious. this just sounds like bullshit to me.

    Nothing else suspicious?! The "winner" of the primary is unemployed, is facing a felony charge, and made no campaign appearances! Does any of that sound suspicious?

  • Open Primary (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jayveekay (735967) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @04:12AM (#32575524)

    South Carolina uses an open primary system where any registered voter can vote in the Democratic primary, not just registered Democratic Party members.

    Is it possible that thousands of Republicans decided to vote for Alvin Greene not because they want him to be their next Senator, but because he is such a hopeless candidate that he will be crushed by the Republican nominee?

    On the face of it, this open primary system seems open to abuse. If you vote for candidate A in the primary, and he wins the primary to move onto the general election ballot, shouldn't your vote be "locked in" to support him in the general election?

  • Funny (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jav1231 (539129) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @04:15AM (#32575538)
    It's funny that everyone is up in arms about a nobody winning this race. If there's fraud, may it be found and dealt with (not fabricated). But couple this with Bob Ethridge's behavior http://voices.washingtonpost.com/reliable-source/2010/06/rs-_etheridge.html [washingtonpost.com] and the arrogance of the professional politician is revealed, it would seem. I recall some local podcasters being called to a "meeting" to discuss new media with some journalists from our local newspaper (a major city newspaper, mind you). Essentially they were sat down and told who the real journalists were. Arrogance generally reveals more stupidity than mastery.
  • Re:Open Primary (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @04:21AM (#32575552)

    Is it possible that thousands of Republicans decided to vote for Alvin Greene not because they want him to be their next Senator, but because he is such a hopeless candidate that he will be crushed by the Republican nominee?

    Sorry to repost, but this seems a better place. If you look at the election results [enr-scvotes.org], you'll see that 424,893 people voted for the Republican primary while 197,380 voted for the Democrat primary. The electorate there is so strongly Republican that if 30k Republicans crossed over to give Greene his minimum 100k vs 70k margin of victory, the Democrats are looking at having to overcome a 2.7:1 margin of voter registrations against them to win, instead of "merely" 2.1:1. If you assume Greene is a nobody and should've gotten 10k votes max, then that means over half the people who voted in the Democrat primary were Republicans, and so the Democrats would need to overcome a 6.4:1 margin to win.

    All in all, none of this makes any sense. There's no motive on either side. Why would Republicans poison a Democrat primary for a safely Republican seat? The stronger you advocate the "Republicans voting in Democrat primary" theory, the safer the Republican seat becomes. Why would Democrats not want to put forth the best candidate? Something does smell, but the most plausible explanation is simple voting machine tallying error with no nefarious purpose behind it.

  • I had an in-depth discussion with several people years ago about doing electronic voting. That was before the whole electronic voting fiasco started.

    On the site that I was the Sr. SysAdmin for, and I did a good bit of programming for, it had a voting system. The original programmer couldn't handle the number of votes coming in, so he randomly took 1 in 10 votes and counted it. Sampling is fine and dandy, but in my world I like completely accurate numbers. The final system stayed in place for years. It very typically maintained millions of votes for thousands of items. It had some primitive components, but that was by design. The votes were stored in flat files, as it would bog down the database server trying to insert the votes in real time. The end user submitted their vote, and it was counted immediately (like milliseconds). The entire vote database was retabulated every 15 minutes. Two people had root access to the server, and it required root access to be able to view the voting information.

    In that system, it wasn't a simple "pick a candidate". It was a scoring system (1 to 5) for the item being voted on. For years, one lonely dual 400Mhz machine with 512Mb RAM handled the tabulation and reporting. We did on occasion have someone question the results. It was usually on something that they were responsible for. "Why did my score drop from 4.5 to 3 in a hour?" It was simply that as the voting numbers rolled in, it adjusted their score. The preliminary numbers were favorable, but subsequent votes weren't so favorable. I could generate reports off of it for that specific item (it took about 10 seconds), where you could see the votes, and how it adjusted the score.

    After a while, we had more robust equipment, and I began storing the voting information in a database. A replica of the database was used for tabulation, so the tabulation machine didn't slow down the vote recording process. That, and a better tabulation machine, brought processing tens of millions of votes down from 5 minutes to less than 1 minute.

    So we talked about what else we could do with such a system. Real political voting could be managed in such a way. We ran into the same problems that are being questioned with the voting machines in use. Only two people with no interest in the outcome of the voting had access to the system. To manipulate the votes would be a very cumbersome task (by design). What if we did the voting for real politics.

    Problem 1) How would we prove to the voting public that the people running the servers had absolutely no interest in manipulating the votes. There's no way to prove that.

    Problem 2) How could we provide for anonymity of the voters. We stored the IP and identifying information with the votes, so we could eliminate voting fraud. Those who voted multiple times on the same item were categorically eliminated from all voting. Their records were stored, but ignored for tabulation. Real political voting requires anonymity. We could provide pseudo-anonymity by storing an ID number with the vote, that would associate with the voters registration. It would then be traceable back to the voter, which is illegal/immoral/just bad. For our application, no one cared.

    Problem 3) How would the general public know that our tabulation program gave an honest result. When the votes don't go your way, people assume there had been some tampering with the results. Really, it would have been easy to lower votes ($vote = $vote -1), and make someone score poorly. Who would you trust more, a couple computer experts, or the government. I know I don't trust the later, but the general voting public wouldn't know if we were trustworthy. If presented with $100 million in cash, who's to say we wouldn't subtly adjust the results in favor of the group who paid us. Again, I believe in honesty in voting, but the general public doesn't know I won't accep

  • Re:He Won! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @04:36AM (#32575600)

    Having never heard of this guy before, I just searched for him on Youtube and clicked on the first link [youtube.com].

    ...Holy shit. It's the male Sarah Palin!

    Couric: What magazines did you read?
    Palin: Most of them.
    Couric: Which ones?
    Palin: Er... all of them.
    Couric: Can you name them?
    Palin: Alaska isn't some foreign country, Alaska is like a microcosm of America!

    ...contrast...

    Quinn: How did you get your name out?
    Greene: Simple, old-fashioned campaigning.
    Quinn: You went door to door?
    Greene: All across the state.
    Quinn: Anything official?
    Greene: Nothing formal.
    Quinn: Which towns did you visit?
    Greene: I traveled all across the state.

    Quinn: Why have you not been active in the Democratic Party?
    Greene: I have been active, just not at any events.
    Quinn: Active how?
    Greene: I meet voters wherever they are.

    I feel a little bad for comparing him to Palin. Greene is humble at the very least. Palin was proud of her ignorance... a dangerous combination.

  • Re:Open Primary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cappp (1822388) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @04:57AM (#32575664)
    That point is actually made in the originally cited FiveThirtyEight post and then somewhat undermined.

    The Republican crossover theory debunked. In addition to many smart comments from 538 readers to the previous post on the SC race, I received an email from one particularly astute reader named Harrison Brown. Complete with an excel spreadsheet to back up his conclusions, Brown basically argues that there's neither any logic to, nor statistical evidence to support, the idea of Republicans crossing over to infiltrate the Democratic primary. Here are the key sections from his email to me, verbatim:

    1. Suppose people were being brought into the Democratic-primary voting pool (from unregistered voters, the Republican faithful, or wherever) for the sole purpose of voting for Greene. Imagine a variable encapsulating the proportion of primary voters in each county who are Greene partisans; this (hidden) variable ought to be strongly positively correlated with both Greene's final results and with the participation rate in each county. In particular, this implies that Greene's vote share and the participation rate, both of which we can measure, would be correlated. But this is not the case -- under either linear or rank correlation! The R-squared and rho-squared are both effectively 0.
    2. Even if that effect didn't show up, there should still be other signs. For instance, we can see if there are any counties where turnout for the Democratic primary exceeded the number of votes Barack Obama received in 2008; those would be prime suspects for Republican influence. And, in fact, there are three such counties: Hampton, Lee, and Union. But these are all fairly small counties where McCain/Palin received under 30% of the vote -- hardly Republican-dominated...
    A more robust analysis of turnout levels reveals similar patterns. Although I didn't collect data for Republican voters (except for the McCain vote share), I came up with a rough estimate of GOP voters in 2008 by assuming the two-party share was 100% in each county. Running a linear regression to predict the number of Democratic primary voters from the number of votes Obama and McCain received, we find that the McCain raw vote total is statistically significant--but it has a negative coefficient. If anything, this points to voter suppression (no real surprises) rather than ballot box stuffing.
    3. Finally, there's the simple question of where the Republican voters would have come from! From eyeballing the GOP primary totals, it seems like turnout in that elections was almost ludicrously high, which seems more-or-less corroborated by what Google's told me. But barring widespread voter fraud and/or corruption by local election officials, high turnout in the GOP primary should be incompatible with infiltration into the Democratic primary.
    In conclusion, while the voting patterns in the D-Senate primary are strange and may not be totally legitimate, they don't bear the expected hallmarks that would arise in the case of a Republican plant.

    With all that now added to the record, so to speak, how does the matter now stand?

    Well, I think it's safe to say that the third possibility I raised in the previous post--GOP cross-primary infiltration--can be eliminated. There doesn't seem to be any direct or circumstantial evidence for that, and there were sufficient motives to participate in the very contentious GOP gubernatorial primary (especially with Nikki Haley running). So we can almost certainly eliminate the idea that there was a coordinated GOP effort to get Republican and/or conservative voters to pick up Democratic ballots with the intent of selecting Greene as DeMint's general election opponent.

  • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @05:56AM (#32575862) Homepage

    How is it impossible to build a voting machine again?

    The voting process has to be verifiable by the average citizen, when a voting machine is involved it almost certainly isn't. You could of course build a voting machine that prints out paper and make the process transparent that way, but then why would one want to go to all that trouble and buy a voting machine for thousands of dollars when a one dollar pen could make the cross just as easily.

  • by ultranova (717540) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @06:36AM (#32576010)

    How is it impossible to build a voting machine again? I have quite a bit of experience with secure systems, and while I grant you that extant voting machine makers need to be dragged out and shot, I don't see any evidence to conclude what you do.

    It's possible to make a ballot-based voting system that's tamper-proof and simple enough that Joe Voter can understand it. It's not possible to build a voting machine that's tamper-proof and simple enough for Joe to understand, which means that Joe has to take your word on blind faith, and, well... it's always possible to get "experts" to testify for the quality of your product if you pay them enough.

    Apart from this, hand-counting votes happens in the open, while a voting machine is a black box. Even if you had sufficient intelligence and expertize to understand how it works, you have no way to know whether a particular voting machine actually works the way you think it does. So even Joe Genius can't really trust them, and has to take their trustworthiness on blind faith.

    Once people can reasonably suspect that any election that didn't give the results they wanted was rigged, and that any future election might be as well, democracy is dead. And that means return to violence as the only effective method people can influence their higher-ups.

  • Re:He Won! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @07:32AM (#32576222)

    You dare talk about "Palin Derangement Syndrome"? You've got 30 percent of the Republican Party who think the President of the United States is actually the AntiChrist and almost 40 percent who don't believe he was legitimately elected.

    I've seen more presidents than a lot of Slashdot readers and I can tell you, I've never seen a group of people driven so completely, utterly, shit-on-the-floor crazy by a president than you Republicans are just because Obama is black.

    Take that "Palin Derangement Syndrome" and shove it up your ass.

  • Re:He Won! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kierthos (225954) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @07:45AM (#32576264) Homepage

    Safe Republican seat? Yes and no.

    He won his seat in 2004 by around 9%.

    Back in December of 2009, he had a 9% lead against a generic Democrat. That's not a huge lead against a completely unnamed opponent. AND there a lot of people here in South Carolina who really like this whole "anti-incumbent" trend. (Enough to make a difference? Probably not. But enough to scare DeMint a bit.)

    Alvin Greene ran no advertisements. He didn't attend the Democratic Party Convention in South Carolina. He had practically no name recognition when compared to his opponent, Vic Rawl, who at least was a state legislator. He was able to pay the filing fee for running for the Democratic primary with a personal check (the filing fee is over 10 grand), but he's poor enough to qualify for a public defender for the felony obscenity charge against him. (Also, please note, that the law being used against him is one that is generally only used for people who show bestiality, extremely violent porn, etc., not the simple hetero porn that Greene allegedly showed someone. So that too comes across as a bit hinky.)

    According to the FEC, at least through May 19, DeMint had around $3.5 million in cash on hand for this election cycle. Greene has $0.

    Now, as to your last question, could this be the Democrats up to something instead of the Republicans up to something? I don't know. But the whole damn thing smells to high heaven.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @08:17AM (#32576442)

    http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/HaireoftheDog/archives/2010/06/12/vic-rawl-campaign-relied-on-robocalls-emails-to-win

    According to his own campaign people:
    "We, on the other hand, while we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on primary, we did do 220,000 robocalls (including one with Rep. John Spratt), and sent out about 250,000 emails in the five days before election. So, yes, we weren’t well known, but we had gone to 80 events around the state, and Rawl had some public profile previously, especially in Charleston County."

    If two people were running, and one of them had been robocalling and spamming, maybe this just pissed people off enough to vote for the name they did not recognise?

  • Re:Open Primary (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Robin47 (1379745) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @08:35AM (#32576608)

    South Carolina uses an open primary system where any registered voter can vote in the Democratic primary, not just registered Democratic Party members.

    Is it possible that thousands of Republicans decided to vote for Alvin Greene not because they want him to be their next Senator, but because he is such a hopeless candidate that he will be crushed by the Republican nominee?

    On the face of it, this open primary system seems open to abuse. If you vote for candidate A in the primary, and he wins the primary to move onto the general election ballot, shouldn't your vote be "locked in" to support him in the general election?

    At one point in Michigan, Jack Kevorkian's lawyer declared for the Democratic primary for governor and the Republican party crossed over and granted his wish, much to the consternation of the Democrats. It happens. Look, I live in SC. No one knew about the felony charges till after the election. I think it was a mix of "first guy on the list" and I don't like the guy the party is backing and there is no selection for "none of the above". (apparently, NV has such a thing?)I used to live in Baton Rouge and I thought the politics was entertaining there. It's entertaining here, too.

  • by Talderas (1212466) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @09:07AM (#32576912)

    A voting machine provides a clear interface so the voter knows precisely his vote. He can go forward or back until final submission. At that point a printout is made that is very clear on the voters intents. You won't have any hanging chads or any impartially filled circles that will allow people to throw your vote out as unclear.

  • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @09:18AM (#32577076) Homepage

    You won't have any hanging chads

    A mechanical voting machine is still a voting machine and should thus be avoided.

    any impartially filled circles that will allow people to throw your vote out as unclear.

    I think most people are confident enough in using a pen that that is hardly a real issue.

  • 90% chance actually (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @09:23AM (#32577122)

    A 10% chance of a pattern in no way suggests any tampering

    It's not a "10% of a chance". It says that if the election had been fair, then this test should have been different 90% of the time.

    In different words, the result says "there is at least a 90% chance that the results have been manipulated; other tests may increase this estimate further".

  • Re:He Won! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MontyApollo (849862) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @09:31AM (#32577224)

    It was a silly scheme, but from what I have read this is business as usual in SC politics. Republican operatives sometimes pay entry fees for black candidates just to "stir the pot" of racial division among the Democrats during the primaries so that blacks will be less likely to vote in the general election.

    I have also read that this is often not much more than a practical joke, especially in this case when the candidate did nothing but pay the entry fee and did not even have campaign signs up in his own yard. I think the Republicans really don't want these candidates to win because it would bring national attention to the way SC politics work, and they were probably just as shocked that Greene won as everybody else was.

  • Re:Poor research (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @09:32AM (#32577242)

    Have you been reading about this case at all?

    Candidates with zero experience, zero money, zero fame, and zero campaign win elections about as often as chinchillas do.

    If you're going to discount the facts and the statistics whenever people with political biases exist, we might as well not bother counting votes at all.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @10:12AM (#32577754)

    Back in 1990, Rod Shealy [wikipedia.org] used this exact same tactic in a Lt. Governor race in SC. He recruited a homeless black guy with a criminal conviction in an attempt to take out the Democratic frontrunner, so his sister (a Republican) could win. It was a crass attempt to play on the racial prejudices of SC (both for blacks in the Democratic Party and against blacks among the general populace) to get his sister elected. He almost succeeded to. And he is still working in SC Republican politics (most recently in the Bauer gubernatorial campaign).

    All of you who are saying this is a preposterous idea have obviously never been involved in SC politics. This isn't even a particularly nasty tactic by SC standards.

  • Re:He Won! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @01:04PM (#32580402)

    hrm... From TFA, a *second* digit benford's law analysis? One supposes he checked every digit perhaps, and picked the result with the highest Rsq to write about perhaps? 0.9 isn't compelling, if it was amateurish fraud as postulated, I'd have expected it to be far more blatant than that. There is a smell all right, but the odor is more bad wine than bad sushi...

  • Re:He Won! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Xonstantine (947614) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @01:53PM (#32581134)

    Your little revisionist history, of course, falls down on a couple of points.

    Specifically, the Republican party NEVER supported segregation and was founded as part of the abolition movement. Democrats...well, not so much. They actively supported slavery and/or segregation through their history.

    The REPUBLICAN party was instrumental in ending slavery and ending segregation. It was Eisenhower (you know, the REPUBLICAN President) who desegregated Little Rock, not the great democratic emancipators Truman or Roosevelt or Kennedy. The Civil Rights Act was the first time the Democrats stepped on the stage to be a positive factor in race. Unfortunately, it didn't represent them coming around to the moral right, but just switching sides from favoring whites at the expense of blacks to favoring blacks (and Latinos) at the expense of whites.

    Even after the so-called "Southern Strategy", Republicans have never tacitly or surreptitiously embraced segregation as a platform. The South going Republican has more to do with the Democratic party going urban socialist, which is not exactly the demographic profile of the South. This is also why the hotbeds of racial segregation and slavery like Iowa, Kansas, and the Dakotas haven't exactly been electing many Democrats these days. The Democrats are the party of the big city socialist. Flyover country (and that includes the south) need not apply.

  • by mollog (841386) on Tuesday June 15, 2010 @07:16PM (#32584830)
    Parent poster points out some interesting things about the GOP and racism. The irony of the Deep South being both 'Republican' and racist, is that they were the 'solid South', voting staunchly Democrat, up until Lyndon Johnson signed the Equal Rights Amendment. Why did the deep South vote Democrat for so long? Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.

    The Deep South voting bloc cares little about niceties like the Constitution if it gets in the way of them having power. They are a cohesive and crafty bunch of politicians. They are more akin to fascists than anything else.

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