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Paper: Florida E-Voting Machines In 2004 Election

Working Paper: The Effect of Electronic Voting Machines on Change in Support for Bush in the 2004 Florida Elections

Michael Hout, Laura Mangels, Jennifer Carlson, Rachel Best
With the assistance of the UC Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Team

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Public discussion of changing voting technology raised concern that some forms of electronic voting might produce a discrepancy between voters’ intentions and tabulations of the election’s outcome. In particular, touch-screen voting machines were criticized for being unverifiable unless they printed out a hard copy that voters could certify as correct and election officials could keep in case a recount was ordered. Without a paper trail, statistical comparisons of jurisdictions that used e-voting are the only tool available to diagnose problems with the new technology.

In our research we used ordinary least squares and more sophisticated linear modeling approaches to assess the statistical properties of e-voting. In particular we develop models that predict both the percentage of the votes registered for the incumbent – President Bush – and the amount that percentage changed between 2000 and 2004. These models can incorporate adjustments for a large number of factors that we or others thought might help explain the patterns. These include socioeconomic and demographic factors like the typical family’s income or its ethnic ancestry. We also adjust for ecological factors like the size of the county. Most importantly we adjust for its voting history, reaching back not only to the 2000 election but farther to the 1996 election. To this list of factors we add consideration of whether the county’s voting technology was e-touch machines or optical scanning equipment.

Finally we translated percentage differences into vote totals in two ways. The first was to assume that the vote margin was due to the appearance of “ghost votes” – votes registered for in a way that helped one candidate but did not reduce the total for the other. Mechanisms that would produce this outcome include having votes electronically registered in the machine prior to any voters using the machine or after the last voter used it – through software errors or hacking – and other flaws that interfere with counting after some limit is reached – reports indicate that some machines may have been programmed to stop counting or subtract votes after some limit is reached. The second count assumes a misattribution by the machine, i.e., a vote intended for candidate A that gets counted for candidate B. Since every vote miscast for candidate B costs candidate A one too, the difference is doubled, so we double our initial estimate to get our estimate of the miscount under this type of error. A combination of one type of error and the other would yield a vote total in between.


Electronic voting raised President Bush’s advantage from the tiny edge he held in 2000 to a clearer margin of victory in 2004. The impact of e-voting was not uniform, however. Its impact was proportional to the Democratic support in the county, i.e., it was especially large in Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade. The evidence for this is the statistical significance of terms in our model that gauge the average impact of e-voting across Florida’s 67 counties and statistical interaction effects that gauge its larger-than-average effect in counties where Vice President Gore did the best in 2000 and slightly negative effect in the counties where Mr. Bush did the best in 2000. The state-wide impact of these disparities due to electronic voting amount to 130,000 votes if we assume a “ghost vote” mechanism and twice that – 260,000 votes – if we assume that a vote misattributed to one candidate should have been counted for the other.

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The Effect of Electronic Voting Machines on Change in Support for Bush in the 2004 Florida Elections



- Irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have awarded 130,000 excess votes or more to President George W. Bush in Florida.

- Compared to counties with paper ballots, counties with electronic voting machines were significantly more likely to show increases in support for President Bush between 2000 and 2004. This effect cannot be explained by differences between counties in income, number of voters, change in voter turnout, or size of Hispanic/Latino population. - In Broward County alone, President Bush appears to have received approximately 72,000 excess votes. - We can be 99.9% sure that these effects are not attributable to chance.


Because many factors impact voting results, statistical tools are necessary to see the effect of touch-screen voting. Multipleregression analysis is a statistical technique widely used in the social and physical sciences to distinguish the individual effects of many variables.

This multiple-regression analysis takes account of the following variables by county:

- number of voters
- median income
- Hispanic population
- change in voter turnout between 2000 and 2004
- support for President Bush in 2000 election
- support for Dole in 1996 election

When one controls for these factors, the association between electronic voting and increased support for President Bush is impossible to overlook. The data show with 99.0% certainty that a county’s use of electronic voting is associated with a disproportionate increase in votes for President Bush.

The data used in this study come from, the 2000 US Census, the Florida Department of State, and the Verified Voting Foundation – all publicly available sources. This study was carried out by a group of doctoral students in the UC Berkeley sociology department in collaboration with Professor Michael Hout, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the UC Berkeley Survey Research Center.

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