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Accuracy in voting

Opinion Faribanks Daily News-Miner   20 December 2004

Across the nationand in fury on the Internetquestions about the integrity of the Nov. 2 presidential election persist and probably will for months, if not years, or at least until the losing party reclaims the White House. In Alaska, there was also some concern, though not widespread, that the result of the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Lisa Murkowski and former Gov. Tony Knowles was flawed.

If for some people the Senate election's accuracy wasn't clear immediately after the vote count, it should be now. A privately funded recount, conducted by the state, showed the state's vote-counting machines provided an accurate tally. The machines, known as Accu-Vote, have been used by the division for several years.

The reason for all this? Several Alaskans were troubled by results of Election Day exit pollsthose conducted of voters just after they cast their ballotsthat showed Gov. Knowles with a lead that was not borne out by the Accu-Vote units.

Exit polling, a fairly recent Election Day tool of campaign operations and news organizations, assumed perhaps greater prominence this year because of problems associated with reporting the 2000 presidential election. The major news television networks and The Associated Press assembled a new polling system to "better" inform the public about how the voting is going. This year, exit polls were favoring Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry at various points throughout the day.

An executive from one of those networks warns, however, that exit poll results should not be seen as gospel.

"We get all sorts of cautions on it," NBC News Vice President Bill Wheatley told The Washington Post. "What's unfortunate is that it ends up out on the Internet, and people who have no idea how to interpret data are passing it around."

Those who paid for the Alaska recount, and who sought to resolve the discrepancy between the exit polls and the election result in the Senate race, provided a good service for Alaskanseven for those who rolled their eyes, knowing that the Senate race had been decided by a comfortable margin. What the group, Alaskans for Fair Elections, did in this case was what state officials would have had a hard time doing: proving to an often-skeptical public that it is possible to trust the government.

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