Al is still more popular
               In defense of 'statistical voodoo'
                      by Gene Lyons

                  Strictly as a public service, somebody needs to remind George W. Bush and
                  his more perfervid media drum-beaters that, according to The Associated
                  Press' tally, he currently trails Al Gore in the national presidential vote by
                  exactly 337,576 votes.
                      Odds are that by the time all the absentee ballots from New York and
                  California are totaled, Bush will have lost the popular vote by a bit more than
                  500,000. If so, Gore's ultimate popular vote margin would be greater than
                  that of John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon in 1960, and Nixon's over
                  Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

                      In the event that Florida court decisions continue to go Bush's way, which
                  is by no means as certain as TV pundits assure us, the Republican nominee
                  will have won the Electoral College vote by a margin of 271 votes to 267.
                  But for the all too convenient facts that his brother Jeb is governor of Florida
                  and that the lovely Katherine Harris, co-chair of his campaign committee, is
                  the secretary of state, chances are that Gore's perfectly legal and proper
                  appeals for hand recounts to rectify voting machine error would have taken
                  place with minimal controversy and he would have been awarded Florida's
                  25 electoral votes.

                      The Miami Herald commissioned a statistical study by Stephen Doig, a
                  professor at Arizona State University, which concluded that, had each and
                  every one of the 185,000 votes discarded by counting machines been
                  properly tallied, Gore would have won the Sunshine State by some 23,000
                  votes. In short, the much-derided exit polls, which correctly called 49 of 50
                  states on election night, but supposedly miscalled only the state in which the
                  GOP candidate's brother was governor, were correct all along. Given a
                  perfect vote count, Gore won Florida.
                      While it's easy to dismiss such purely hypothetical numbers as "statistical
                  voodoo," as the Bush campaign promptly did, they're almost certainly more
                  accurate than the 537-vote Bush margin of victory certified by Harris. The
                  Herald study's methods were quite conservative. First, Doig counted the
                  number of non-voters or double-voters in each of Florida's 5,885 precincts.
                  Assuming human or machine error, he assigned those votes to Gore or Bush
                  in precisely the same proportion the precinct as a whole voted, then added
                  the totals. To the obvious objection that some voters may have intended not
                  to express a preference in the presidential contest, he told the Herald that
                  even if the analysis were adjusted to include the remote possibility that 90
                  percent of voters whose ballots were discarded actually intended to skip the
                  race, the margin still would make a decisive difference for Gore--about
                  1,400 votes.
                      "Doig described it as a matter of analyzing extremes," the Herald article
                  stated. "In his, he started with the assumption that every one of the 185,000
                  discarded ballots represented an intent to vote in the presidential race. The
                  other extreme, he said, is the Bush contention that none of them should count.

                      " 'That extreme is the reality that we have, that Gov. Bush won by a
                  razor-thin 500 votes,' Doig said. 'I'm no psychic. I don't know what they
                  really intended to do, but I do know that almost anywhere in that margin,
                  Gore wins. You can argue about where in the point it should be.' "
                      So much for Florida. Let's put it another way: Except for the defection of
                  a few thousand soft-headed Naderites in the vicinity of the University of
                  New Hampshire, Gore would have swept New England, earned the needed
                  270 electoral votes to win the presidency and the Florida sideshow wouldn't
                  matter. Which may be what moved our new favorite newspaper, New
                  Hampshire's Concord Monitor, to publish a Nov. 30 editorial entitled,
                  "Give it up, W."

                      "The time has come for Gov. George W. Bush to concede the presidential
                  election and go back to Texas," wrote Monitor editors. "This will be good
                  for him and good for the country.
                      "What is at stake is the integrity of the election process. Consider the
                  factors that are holding Bush up in Florida: voting irregularities and errors in
                  county after county, intimidation of election officials by over-zealous Bush
                  partisans, a secretary of state who joyfully subordinates voters' interests to
                  Bush's and the prospect of a decision favorable to him in the state's
                  Republican-controlled legislature.

                      "To assume the presidency on such a foundation would give Bush no
                  chance whatsoever of uniting the country behind him. His handlers have
                  done all in their power to disenfranchise Florida voters. If partisanship,
                  law-bending and political spin are allowed to silence the voice of the people,
                  a Bush presidency is doomed."
                      Here at Unsolicited Opinions Inc., we think the most telling moment of the
                  2000 election came when the Bush campaign refused Gore's offer to abide
                  by the results of a statewide hand count in Florida. That said everything.
                      "His refusal," opines the Monitor, "fits a pattern of behavior since the
                  election that has created a stature gap for the oft-self-proclaimed president-elect.
                  There is something about his brief, nervous turns at the microphone that transforms
                  his American flags and other power props into a Muppets set."
                      Alas, there's no such thing as a perfect vote count, and Bush obviously
                  isn't about to concede. We don't even think he should. To do so would be a
                  betrayal not so much of his own ambitions as of his party, his supporters and
                  the millions of misguided Americans who voted for him.
                      But what he ought to be doing is reflecting about how Daddy's money and
                  Daddy's connections appear to have done it for him once again and
                  restraining the absolutist rhetoric of his supporters, who have condemned
                  Gore as a corrupt madman and worse for pursuing every legal means to
                  contest an election he almost surely won.
                         Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National
                         Magazine Award. His column appears on Wednesdays.

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