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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Sunday Spin 2: By the numbers

After a month that saw one presidential candidate claim the election could be stolen if he doesn’t win and the federal government ask state elections officials to be sure their voting systems are secure, one group had a calming statement last week.

Real voter fraud – where someone who is not eligible to vote impersonates someone who is eligible and casts a ballot – is essentially non-existent. So says the American Statistical Association, a group that knows its numbers, in a recent press release.

While that sort of undercuts the need for tougher Voter ID laws, it doesn’t mean everything is peachy with elections. “Electoral malpractice is quite common and can take place in many forms, such as misleading ballot designs, computer malfunctions and security breaches, long lines, misleading information about polling locations, poorly maintained voting lists and overly aggressive voter list purges,” said Arlene Ash, professor of biostatisics and health services research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The association recommends post-election audits of paper ballots to look for poorly marked ballots, computer glitches and other problems to see if the hand count matches what the computer’s final tally. Washington and Idaho still have paper ballots, although about 25 percent of the country does not. 

Although it’s not quite the audit statisticians are suggesting, a recent hand recount of a legislative race in the Yakima area was heartening. They counted 13,020 ballots to make sure who finished second after Democrat AJ Cooper wound up eight votes ahead of Republican Dave Kearby. No votes changed.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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