The Palm Beach Ballots Speak

Bob Spence

Created 11/12/00
Last updated 11/18/00
Moved from on 12/14/01

At about 2:00 AM EST on 11/12/00 Palm Beach County election officials announced unofficial totals for the manual recount for four precincts representing approximately one percent of the total votes in the county. Bush picked up 14 votes and Gore picked up 33 votes for a net increase of 19 votes for Gore. This extrapolates to a net gain of approximately 1900 votes for Gore in the entire county.

They also announced counts for over-punched and under-punched ballots. These represent ballots where there were no holes or multiple holes punched for president. The results of those counts reflect additional usability problems with the Palm Beach county ballot.

Three ballots were punched with the combination 3 + 5. This represents a vote for Bush and Gore. A reasonable explanation for this selection would be a voter choosing one of the major candidates, and then changing their mind to chose the other. Five were punched with the combination 5 + 7. This represents a vote for Gore and Browne (the Libertarian). I am baffled by this combination.

The most common over-punches were for the combinations 3 + 4, 4 + 5, and 5 + 6.

Eighty 4 + 5 combinations were selected which match the popularly reported case of mistakenly choosing Buchanan and then choosing Gore.

Eleven ballots were punched with the combination 3 + 4. Twenty-one ballots were punched with the combination 5 + 6. These reflect a vote for Bush and Buchanan or Gore and McReynolds (the Socialist candidate).

Why did the Palm Beach county voters find the 3 + 4 and 5 + 6 combinations attractive?

The ballot itself provides the answer. In many elections the voter is expected to chose more than one candidate from a list of candidates. In the case of voting for President one must chose both President and Vice President. If a voter chose to vote for Bush and Cheney, they might easily chose to punch the holes for these candidates which are immediately to the right of their names. A Bush/Cheney vote would be holes 3 + 4. A vote for Gore/Lieberman would be holes 5 + 6.

The ballot instructions say "ELECTORS FOR PRESIDENT AND VICE PRESIDENT (A vote for the candidates will actually be a vote for their electors) (Vote for Group)." These instructions use the plural. They instruct the voter to "Vote for Group" not "Vote for a group." This is ambiguous. Most voters got it right, but some got it wrong. They punched once for President and once for Vice President.

Using this interpretation Bush would have received 11 votes and Gore would have received 21 votes. This is a net gain of another 10 votes for Gore. This extrapolates to another 1000 votes for Gore in the county. This reading of the meaning of the punches reflects very closely the preference for the Gore ticket in Palm Beach County.

The will of the voters of Palm Beach County reflected in a hand recount would therefore be approximately 1900 plus 1000 or 2900 votes.

The probable vote switches represented by the eighty 4 + 5 combinations are probably spoiled ballots for Buchanan then Gore. Voter intent could be inferred, but it would not be appropriate to count them.

The Palm Beach County ballot is unique within Florida. No other ballot encouraged voting for both President and Vice President. It would be reasonable to assume that the will of the people of Palm Beach County would be more accurately measured by including the President/Vice President over-punch votes represented by the 3 + 4 and 5 + 6 combinations. The instructions were ambiguous and the observed voting pattern reflects this ambiguity.

Al Gore is due these additional 1000 votes.

Some Palm Beach Ballot Links:
Last repaired 12/14/01

Statistical Analysis

Sebago Associates: Analysis & Links

Greg D. Adams: Analysis & Links

Matt Ruben: Statistical Analysis & Links

John S. Irons: Social Scientists Links

Jonathan O'Keeffe: Analysis & Links

Bruce E. Hansen: Statistical Analysis of UnderVotes


Steve Kirsch: The Palm Beach County Vote

Jacob Weisberg: Why 19,120 People Voted Twice

Kevin Fox: Doublepunch Analysis Comment

Joel Spolsky: Is Bush going to actually be the next president because of a usability bug?

Dan Bricklin: On Ballot Usability

Bruce Tognazzini: The Butterfly Ballot, Anatomy of a Disaster

Chris aka BushNeverWon: 73 Red Flags

Mark Levine: Q&A on Bush v. Gore

M. E. Cowan: Eclectic Florida Links (Broken)

The Ballot

NPR Online: The Palm Beach and Dade County Ballots

Florida Specifications for General Election Ballot

My Comments

Statement Concerning Usability Issues of the Palm Beach Ballot

Election 2000 Observations

Comments on Florida Law

The Data

Palm County Precinct Data

Sebago Associates: Overvote Distribution Data

More Links

Steve Kirsch: The Palm Beach Balloting

Paul Resnick: Usability Analysis of the Palm Beach Ballot Controversy

Roxanne Kent-Drury: Florida Ballot Controversy

Craig R. Fox: A Vote for Buchanan is a Vote for Gore? [pdf]

Jared 'Murmur': Baltimore Web Journal

Terry 'Ali Boom': Fear Bush

Phil Agre: Red Rock Eater News Service Amazing Link List

A Vote for Bush was Sometimes a Vote for Gore
Bob Spence, 11/27/00

There was one Palm County ballot that had holes 1+2 punched. This combination could not be physically punched through the voting machine. Those holes were blocked. So, this ballot must have been manually punched as an absentee ballot.

We might assume the voter intended to vote for the first two candidates using the first two hole positions. This would have been a vote for Bush/Cheyenne. We can allow them that vote.

But some other voters would have made the same mistake for Gore/Lieberman. Where are their votes? They would have mistakenly voted using the second pair of holes, 3+4. This probably would have occurred in the same proportion as the other double vote errors.

So if we award Bush/Cheney one vote for the 1+2 ballot we must award Gore/Leiberman two 3+4 votes. So, in these two cases a vote counted for Bush/Cheney was really a vote for Gore/Leiberman!

The new totals are then:
Bush/Cheney: 11 + 1 - 2 = 10
Gore/Leiberman: 21 + 2 = 23

So, instead of a gain of 1000 votes, Gore gains 1300 votes.

This points out an even bigger potential gain for Gore in Palm County. If voters chose to vote for Bush/Cheney with one punch in hole 1 for the first party, then there should be Gore/Leiberman votes awardable with hole 2 punched for the second party. It would be interesting to see the counts for these invalid ballots.

And, some proportion of the hole 3 votes for Bush rightly belongs to Gore when voters tried to vote for Gore using the third voting position.

In Palm County not only was a vote for Buchanan a vote intended for Gore, but in some cases a single hole 3 vote for Bush was a vote intended for Gore! Counting these voters intentions could yield hundreds of more votes for Gore.

Further Analysis of the Ballots
Bob Spence (12/15/00)

Holes 3 through 11 and hole 13 were assigned to Presidential candidates. Holes 1, 2 and 12 were not assigned to any candidate for any office and were not punchable by the voter through the voting machine on the Presidential voting page of the ballot. There were four ballots in the 1% sample report which had punches in these positions to which no candidate was assigned. There was one ballot with holes 1+2 punched, one with holes 2+3 punched, one with holes 2+4 punched, and one with holes 1+3+4 punched. The ballot with holes 1+2 was discussed above. Let us consider the meaning of the other three ballots.

Holes 1, 2 and 12 were not assigned to any candidate and were not exposed to the voter. Why were they then assigned to the Presidential race at all. They were no more a part of that race than holes 43 or 97. It makes no sense for a voter to chose them, but should a ballot be rejected as an overpunch for choices made in the card which correspond to no candidate in any race? There was no instruction to the voter as to what they should do with unassigned punch positions, so there seems to be no legal reason to invalidate a legal vote which includes an unused punch position.

Using this rule, we have one undervote with extra punches in the unused positions 1+2, one vote for Bush with unused hole 2 punched, one vote for Buchanan with unused hole 2 punched, and one vote for Bush and Buchanan with unused hole 1 punched. So, Bush gains a legal vote and Buchanan gains a legal vote.

We need to get a complete tally of all of the overpunch combinations to get the full picture of what happened in Palm County.

Legality of the ballot's voting instructions
Bob Spence, 11/29/00

On 11/16/00 James Musters raised this very important question:

Did the ballot violate Florida law in not clearly disallowing one vote each for President and Vice President?

According to The 2000 Florida Statutes, Title IX ELECTORS AND ELECTIONS
Chapter 101, Voting Methods And Procedure
101.151 Specifications for general election ballot.
b) Immediately following the name of each office on the ballot shall be printed, "Vote for One."

The Palm Beach County ballot says "Vote for Group".
Dade County's ballot says "Vote for One (1) Group".

However thanks to Dean Davis:

Chapter 101 Voting Methods And Procedure
101.191 Form of general election ballot.
(1) The general election ballot shall be in substantially the following form:
ELECTORS For President and Vice President
(A vote for the candidates will actually be a vote for their electors)
Vote for group

So, the instructions for voting for President and Vice President seem legal under Florida law.

The Raw Numbers

An official table of overvote counts may be found at the above Sebago Associates link. These are the early numbers as transcribed from the live CNN broadcast by me and Robert Earle.

My transcription of counts as reported by Judge Charles Burton at approximately 2:00 AM EST on 11/11/00 with Theresa LePore and Carol Roberts live on CNN. Thanks to Robert Earle for his transcript of counts for the first three combinations. A link to an official set of numbers from Palm County would be appreciated.

Totals for each recount

Total changes by precinct

(MS Word started auto numbering columns here, so I missed the first three combinations)

Combinations of over-punches
Combination....Count (as corrected by Robert Earle)
3.5..............3 (as corrected by Robert Earle)
4.5.............80 (as corrected by Robert Earle)

The Numbers as Transcribed by Robert Earle

Subj: Re: Palm Beach overvotes
Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2000 10:42:10 AM Eastern Standard Time
From: "Robert Earle"

For the record then (such as it is), here is what I managed to write down (more or less in the order read):

5,7,9,11 - 1
3,5 -3
4,5 - 80
5,7 - 5
5,6 - 21
2,4 - 1
5,9 -1
5,10,13 - 1
3,4 - 11
(I missed at least one here)
5,11 - 1
5,8,13 - 1
1,3,4 - 1
3, 11 - ?
2,3 -1
4,6,9 - 1
1,2 -1
(There may have been a few more here)

None of the combinations I missed had more than one, or perhaps two, ballots counted for it. So they would be unimportant except for being to say eg "The Gore/Buchanan combination was 80 out of nnn for a percent of mm%"
Amazing that these counts don't seem to be in print anywhere, isn't it?

Hope this helps
Robert Earle