Impossible Numbers in NY-23 UPDATED
Northern NY News, 25 November 2009. Written by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D.
This article was based upon unofficial results provided to the author by the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections in a .pdf file on the same day that the election results were certified. These were not the certified results, and the author deeply regrets having said that they were.
Five days after the publication of this article, the Board of Elections provided an .xls spreadsheet of the certified results, district by district, in which only the numbers for ballots cast and blank ballots had been changed; and a .pdf file, dated Monday, November 30th, with numbers for blank ballots ed, district by district. The changes in the numbers for ballots cast are duly noted in this revised article.
The Board of Elections has stated that only the numbers for “blank ballots” were computer generated in the original .pdf file, and that the “whole number” of ballots cast for each election district was entered manually. The data entry program then automatically subtracted the vote counts for each of the candidates and the remainder would appear in the final column as “blank ballots.” In these six election districts (and perhaps others), data entry errors were made in the first column, for “whole number” of ballots cast, which resulted in the erroneous numbers in the final column, for “blank ballots.”
Changes from the original article are indicated in bold:
CANTON, NY – The election results certified by the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections for New York’s 23rd Congressional District did not contain the mathematically impossible numbers reported here last week. Those were not the certified results, and the author deeply regrets having said that they were.
For six election districts in St. Lawrence County (the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 7th districts in Canton, the 14th district in Massena, and the 2nd district in Oswegatchie) negative numbers had appeared in the unofficial results, in the column for “blank” ballots, known in other states as “undervotes.”
Blank vote counts are ballots in which the voter did not choose any candidate in a given election and are determined by subtracting the total number of votes cast for the candidates from the number of voters who completed ballots. The remaining number would be those voters who didn’t cast a vote for that election.
In Canton’s 7th district, the unofficial results showed a total of 148 ballots cast. The results of those votes were counted as 88 votes for Owens, 11 votes for Scozzafava, and 80 votes for Hoffman. The problem was that these numbers add up to 179 votes counted for the candidates, and the unofficial results reported only 148 ballots cast; so the number of ‘blank’ ballots appeared as -31.
Election analysts refer to this phenomenon as “phantom voters,” because they are apparitions. They do not actually exist. There can never be more votes counted for any office than the number of actual voters who cast ballots. There could be one or two, if on occasion an actual voter forgot to sign the poll book, but never 31.
In addition to the 31 “phantom votes” in Canton's 7th district, there were 16 more in Canton’s 2nd district, two in Canton's 4th district, 20 in the 7th, 22 in Massena 14th district, and 2 in Oswegatchie 2nd district.
A “phantom vote,” which is a vote counted with no ballot cast, is the opposite of a “blank vote” or “undervote,” which is a ballot cast with no vote counted. They cancel each other out. Thus, if “phantom votes” are allowed into a vote counting system, they can be masked if there are fewer of them than the number of “blank votes” or “undervotes.”
The author has since learned that, in St. Lawrence County, only the numbers for “blank ballots” were computer generated. The “whole number” of ballots cast for each election district was entered manually. The data entry program then automatically subtracted the vote counts for each of the candidates and the remainder would appear in the final column as “blank ballots.” In these six election districts (and perhaps others), data entry errors were made in the first column, for “whole number” of ballots cast, which resulted in the erroneous numbers in the final column, for “blank ballots.”
Because the number of ballots cast was slightly different for the special Congressional election than for the general election, these were among the last numbers reviewed, and all were corrected prior to certification.
An audit of the poll books revealed that there were 537 actual voters at the polls in Canton’s 7th and 8th district, which voted at the same polling place, and there were 25 absentee ballots, for a total of 562. According to the certified results, there were 179 votes counted for Congress in Canton’s 7th and 375 in Canton’s 8th, making 554 altogether, and the number for ballots cast has been changed from 529 to 563.
Similarly, there were 435 actual voters at the polls in Canton 2, 4 and 6, which voted at the same polling place, and there were 26 absentee ballots, for a total of 461. According to the certified results, there were 449 votes counted for Congress, and the number for ballots cast has been changed from 411 to 460.
In Massena’s 14th district, a single-precinct polling place, there were 365 actual voters at the polls, and there were 14 absentee ballots, for a total of 379. According to the certified results, there were 363 votes counted for Congress, and the number for ballots cast has been changed from 341 to 379.
In Oswegatchie 2nd and 4th districts, which voted at the same polling place, there were 412 actual voters at the polls, and there were 35 absentee ballots, for a total of 447. According to the certified results, there were 436 votes counted for Congress, and the number for ballots cast has been changed from 442 to 446.
Thus, in the cases cited above, there were enough actual voters at the polls to account for the vote totals for the candidates. Both the certified results and an audit of the poll books reflect this. And while, in the five districts in Canton and Massena there were 120 more actual voters at the polls than the sum total that appeared in the unofficial results, the Board of Elections has stated that this was due to data entry errors, not to the voting machines themselves, and the author takes them at their word.
However, since this article was originally posted, the Gouverneur Times has learned that the central point of the original article is correct. “Blank votes,” or “undervotes,” are calculated, not counted, in the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections software. Thus the final column in their chart, for “blank votes,” will always equal the number required for the votes to add up, whether or not the vote count is correct, even if a negative number is required to make this happen.
The reason for this, also acknowledged to the Gouverneur Times by the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections, is that the software for the Sequoia / Dominion ImageCast voting machines does not count the “blank votes.” The importance of this cannot be overstated.
The vote count is supposed to be a breakdown. All the votes for the individual candidates, plus the “blank votes” or “undervotes” and the “void ballots” or “overvotes,” are supposed to add up to the total ballots cast. If one of these categories is merely calculated by subtracting the other categories from the total, there is no check upon the count, and it will always balance.
Think of it this way. If you are a cashier, and you have the tape indicating how much money is supposed to be in the cash register, you cannot count the paper money, subtract that number from the total on the tape, and report the remainder without counting the change. You will lose your job.
The insidious thing about voting machine software not counting the “blank ballots” is exactly what was alleged in my article. “Phantom votes” can be introduced into the system. The computer can be programmed to add votes to one candidate’s total, and the unsuspecting Board of Elections will dutifully subtract all the candidates’ vote counts from the total ballots cast, report the remainder as “blank votes,” all the numbers will add up perfectly, and no one will be the wiser – except, of course, if negative numbers turn up in the column for “blank votes.”
I do not know that “phantom votes” were actually introduced anywhere in the 23rd Congressional district. But that is not the point. The voting machine software could allow it. Thus the voting machines should not be certified, and perhaps the election should not be certified.
Mechanical lever machines do not count the “blank votes” or “undervotes” either. The number is derived by subtracting the vote totals for the candidates from the total votes cast. (Overvotes are not allowed; two levers cannot be pulled for the same position). There is a simple remedy for this. Add a row at the bottom for “none of the above,” and require each voter to pull one lever in each column before opening the curtain that causes the votes to be cast. The Boards of Elections can then add a column for “blank votes” to their worksheets, as if it were another candidate, and subtract all the candidates’ vote counts from the total ballots cast. The final column, the remainder, should always equal zero.
Electronic vote counting is much too vulnerable to failure and/or manipulation. If a mechanical (lever-style) machine breaks down, the failure is visible, and only the one machine is affected. With electronic vote counting, one person can change the outcome of an election and not leave a trace. This has been shown over and over again in scientific studies, including those commissioned by the Secretaries of State in California and Ohio.
But more than that, how can we have a democracy if we cannot know if the vote count is accurate? If election officials cannot know, and if the candidates cannot know, and if the voters cannot know that the official results are true and correct, why even have an election? Why go through the motions?
In New York State, 232 years of election case law pursuant to the state constitution has strongly upheld the requirement that votes be counted visibly, in public view, and the results proclaimed, before the ballots or the lever machines leave the polling place. It has long been understood that vote counting concealed from the public is a crime waiting to happen. Because electronic vote counting is an invisible process, it flies in the face of tradition and case law.
Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D., is one of the leading election fraud investigators in the United States. His book on the 2004 Ohio election, Witness to a Crime: A Citizens’ Audit of an American Election, based on examination of some 30,000 photographs of actual ballots, poll books, and other election records, is available at http://www.witnesstoacrime.com
Further information on some of the problems that occurred in the NY-23 elections can be found here.
Sally Castleman, co-founder of Election Defense Alliance (EDA), a national organization committed to honest, secure and transparent elections, contributed to this article.
The author thanks the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections for providing unfettered access to election records.