Election Law @ Moritz has taken an interesting (and comprehensive) look at what a close election might mean in Ohio.
Could the discrepancy between paper and electronic records really make a difference? In a close enough election, it might. If voting equipment and associated errors were randomly distributed throughout the state, then one would not expect it to matter whether paper or electronic ballot records govern in the event of a recount. Even if 10% of votes are thrown out, it wouldn’t affect the election result so long as the errors are random — that is, so long as they affected all candidates equally.
In reality, however, voting equipment isn’t randomly distributed, at least in Ohio. To illustrate the point, I’ve created this spreadsheet, which shows the type of voting equipment used in each of the 88 Ohio counties, according to the Secretary of State’s website.* The counties labelled “DRE” are ones using direct record electronic voting equipment that, under state law, must generate a VVPAT. It also shows the results of the 2004 presidential election, also taken from the Secretary of State’s website, including which candidate (Bush or Kerry) received more votes in each of the counties. Overall, Bush won in Ohio by a margin of 118,601 votes, receiving 2,859,768 votes to Kerry’s 2,741,167.
In this scenario, both candidates would have lost votes — but Kerry would have lost more. Bush would have wound up with 1,774,805 votes in the affected counties, while Kerry would have wound up with 1,819,715 votes. On a statewide basis, making compromised VVPAT records the official ballot of records would have made Bush’s final margin of victory 123,590 votes rather than 118,601 votes. Bush would thus have picked up about 5,000 net votes.
Clearly, this discrepancy would not have mattered in 2004… but in a close enough election – like Florida 2000 – it might.
The system still isn’t fixed. And with such a partisan SoS as Ken Blackwell in charge of the distribution of voting machines, the system could be gamed to allow errors to favor the GOP pretty easily.