Two Significant Errors Found In New Jersey's Certified Election Results
During the brouhaha over Florida's undervote the Times of Trenton ran the article "New Jersey 'undervote' greater than Florida's." It said, "Of the nearly 3.19 million New Jersey voters who went to the polls, 106,152 - about 3.3 percent - did not pick a presidential candidate, although they voted for other offices, according to certified election results released this week by the state Board of Canvassers.
"In Florida, the turnout was nearly 6.13 million voters, with 175,655 of the certified votes - nearly 2.9 percent - not voting for president, according to state election officials there."
Joshua Leinsdorf, chief psephologist at the Institute of Election Analysis, checked the New Jersey figures and discovered two significant errors. Monmouth County reported 75,945 more ballots cast than actually were cast and Cumberland County reported 2,219 fewer ballots cast than were actually cast. When these 73,726 phantom voters were removed from the totals, the number of actual undervotes in New Jersey was 32,426 or 1.01%, not the 3.3% reported in the paper.
Although the New Jersey errors did not change the results of the election, as officials repeatedly point out, errors of any kind are a sign of problems that need to be corrected before they do change the outcome of the election as they did in Florida.
The Error In Monmouth County
Monmouth County's error was the result of computer and human error in combination. In the certified results for every district, the votes for each candidate are listed in a row, and at the end of the row are three columns: Total Registered Voters, Total Ballots Cast, and Total Ballots Rejected.
In addition to the ballot totals for each election district, every town has Civilian and Military Absentee ballots and Provisional ballots. Provisional ballots are cast by voters who have moved within the county since the closing of voter registration rolls. These are voters who no longer live where they are registered, but are allowed to vote because they still live in the county where they are registered.
Provisional voters go to their new polling place and cast a ballot, giving their current address and their previous address. The board of elections then checks the information and if it is valid, the ballot is accepted; if the information is not correct, the ballot is rejected.
In Neptune Township, a heavily minority municipality in Monmouth County, 97 voters cast provisional ballots. Seventy-six were deemed valid and 21 were rejected. So, the number of Total Ballots Cast in the Provisional Ballot row should have been 76 and the Total Ballots Rejected should have been 21. But the person entering the numbers on the computer spreadsheet put 76021 in the Total Ballots Cast column and left the Total Ballots Rejected column empty.
Now, an 87,275 number for total ballots cast in a Township with only 17,049 voters should have caught someone's eye. But because the election results are closely held in the office of the Republican Monmouth County Clerk Marie Clare French, the public does not get to look at them until after they are certified.
Even the county-wide total of 77,343 provisional ballots cast in a county with 378,268 registered voters should have raised a red flag. There were only 1,398 provisional ballots cast and any official familiar with elections should have noticed the abnormally high number of provisional ballots.
And finally, the extra 75,945 provisional ballots boosted Monmouth County's turnout to 90%, the highest in the state, when the next highest county had an 81% turnout. These percentages were listed in the official state results and should have sent alarm bells ringing. So, this error should have been caught at any one of the three levels: municipal, county and state. The error is still uncorrected and can be seen on the official election division website at: http://www.state.nj.us/lps/elections/elec2000/2000g_turnout.html
What makes this error even more remarkable is that parts of Monmouth County lie in the 12th Congressional District. The 12th district was one of the most hotly contested in the 2000 election. Incumbent Congressman Rush Holt was facing a challenge from the former Congressman Dick Zimmer who had vacated the seat in an unsuccessful run for Senate in 1996. President Clinton came to help raise funds for Holt, and both parties targeted the district as a must win for retaining control of the House. More than $3 million was spent on the race.
Like the squeaker in Florida, the 12th district race was very, very close. On election night, Holt had a 300 vote margin out of almost 300,000 ballots cast. In New Jersey, however, the votes were accurately recounted and the result was not settled until early December, even though the counties are required to certify results on November 13.
Neptune Township, the site of the error in provisional ballots, is not one of the Monmouth County municipalities in the 12th congressional district. So, while election officials, lawyers and others were pouring over every digit and every ballot in the towns affected by the 12th district recount, no one was paying any attention to the results from Neptune Township or Monmouth County as a whole.
While computers are powerful, errors once entered on a spread sheet tend to remain. In the computer era, it is more important than ever that human people have access to examine and think about the results, to make sure they make sense.
In 1997, Joshua Leinsdorf, the chief psephologist at the Institute of Election Analysis ran as an independent for Monmouth County Clerk against Marie Clare French. Independent candidates in New Jersey are entitled to have a three word slogan printed above their names on the ballot, as a compensation for not having the Republican or Democratic Party designation. Josh chose "For Honest Elections" as his slogan.
The Cumberland County Error
Cumberland County omitted including 2,219 voters in the figure for Total Ballots Cast which was sent to the State Board of Canvassers.
Cumberland County sent a figure of 46,830 Total Ballots Cast to the State Board of Canvassers. Here again, the error should have been obvious because 48,684 ballots were cast for president in Cumberland County. How could 1,854 more votes be cast for president than Total Ballots Cast in the whole election?
The answer is that Cumberland County's Official Tally left out 1,750 Civilian Absentee ballots, 88 Military Absentee ballots, 3 Federal Absentee ballots and 378 Provisional ballots, for a total omission of 2,219. When these ballots are included, the Total Ballots Cast in Cumberland County is 49,049. That means that 365 voters, or 0.74%, did not cast ballots for president.
While the error in Cumberland County is smaller than Monmouth County's, the reason for the mistake has worse implications. Cumberland County hired a private firm to do their computer work. The software used by the private firm was, not surprisingly, proprietary.
When the votes were tallied, the computer firm sent a number of Total Ballots Cast to the Cumberland County Clerk and the clerk's office dutifully included the number in the official tally which was sent to the State Board of Canvassers.
The private computer firm was hired to do only the machine vote. The total sent to the County Clerk should have said "Total Machine Ballots Cast". But because the private firm had no knowledge of the absentee and provisional ballots, the total from the machines was labeled Total Ballots Cast.
Cumberland County's error shows the dangers of privatizing parts of the election process. The opportunity for fraud and misrepresentation is severe.
The frightening thing about the errors in New Jersey's election results is that material errors were made in at least 2 of the state's 21 counties. There may be more. Hudson County had an abnormally large number of undervotes, triple the state average. And Somerset County had an abnormally high turnout.
What New Jersey shows is that the errors in Florida were not the exception, but the rule. In an age of DNA sampling, and global positioning systems that give pinpoint accuracy, is it reasonable to believe that the voting system in one of the biggest states is too imprecise to accurately tally 6.1 million voters?
Gore won the election in Florida and the nation. But George Bush is a gangster who believes in clerical errors more than he believes in democracy. His administration, a retread of Gerald Ford's, the first appointed president in United States history, is going to be a disaster. War and recession are on the horizon.
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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf