Sunday, November 16, 2008

Election Recount Highlights Futility of Voting

In Minnesota, out of 2.9 million votes, the difference between the Democrat and Republican is currently about 200. Now, given we had to fill in these bubbles with pens, surely some voters filled in bubbles in various levels of incompleteness, or with X's. That is, say 0.02% filled out their ballots 'ambiguously', a conservative estimate. That means 580 votes are basically an election's measurement error, a bound within which there is no precise, objective, estimate.

The basic analogy is, say you had a bet with an alien being that the mass of the Earth is some number, like 5.95124897564653554×10^49 kilograms. That is, with 50 digits. Now, we need to count every atom, so 'every atom counts'. But more important is not each atom, but the rules on which atoms to count, those entering, or leaving the atmosphere at any point in time. If the number is decisive by one atom, clearly there will be a reasonable argument as to why a certain atom should, or should not, be considered part of the Earth. The decisive issue is not the number of atoms and their ultimate mass, but to the extent we get to measurement error levels, how we handle special cases. Conditional upon an atom becoming decisive, it become irrelevant through other means.

Now, the determination of how to interpret these ambiguous votes comes down to lawyers, and judges, rather than voters. That is, given the number of votes that people can reasonably disagree upon is probably at least 1000 votes, the probability that your individual vote will determine an election is not near zero, but zero. This is because any election with millions of votes that is decided by 1 vote, will be decided by lawyers and judges using tendentious reasoning with a great deal of pretext veiled as principle (and lots of citations). The only scenario where one's vote counts implies legal wrangling will be decisive, the vote being transferred from a referendum to a meta-judgment about how to deal with smudges and the credibility of people who belatedly find votes in their car, etc. Franken has 1250 lawyers helping his recount, and I've read that Coleman has 120. There is no objective reality with a one vote decision, rather, when the vote is within 0.05% (well above a 1 vote difference), who has more effective legal support.


Anonymous said...

Conversely, I would say this is the one race where people who voted probably feel like their vote really did make a difference.

Anonymous said...

So you shouldn't vote in tight races? Is that the take-a-way here?

We've heard that MN has a reputation for clean elections. The group most likely to check or x their bubble instead of filling it in are the elderly and poor. So, the DNC and Franken must belive there is a reasonable chance Franken will make up his 206 votes.

I'm surprised the RNC hasn't matched the DNC lawyer for lawyer. It's not a matter of political leaning ... those lawyers, for the most part, aren't volunteers. But it's surprising the DNC can out organize the ... given the RNC's superior performance in the 2000 FL election.

drederick said...

I don't see how that implies the probability of influencing the election is 0. It should just push back the level at which you influence the election. For instance maybe there would be no recount if candidate A won by 1000 votes but thhre would be a recount if they won by 999. So your voting can determine whether there is a recount.

Or even within a recount situation your vote still contributes to the final tally, even if it is error-ridden. As long as the final results are somewhat related to the actual votes you can have an influence.