Was the election in Venezuela stolen?
Several weeks back, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman warned that the Presidential election might be stolen in Florida. This year, he warned, unlike the Presidential race in 2000, the election might be stolen even without help from the Supreme Court. The fraud would be perpetrated through the use of new touch screen voting machines which do not leave a paper trail. This meant that Bush die—hards working for Florida Governor Jeb Bush could or would fix the results regardless of the real vote (presumably by receiving secret passwords or instructions from the machine manufacturers). Shockingly, one executive with Diebold, one of the machine manufacturers, was a Bush supporter! For Krugman, this all but assured that the dastardly deed would occur, if needed. Krugman, of course, never suggested or even contemplated that anybody on the left might do something so nasty and unethical.
Well, it turns out that the Left may have just stolen an election in Venezuela. The media has tuned out on this story, after proudly reporting that Hugo Chavez won a resounding victory, once former President Carter blessed the results as fair. The big story in the mainstream media was the rebuke to President Bush, since Chavez was Fidel Castro's best friend in the hemisphere, and had trounced his opponents in the recall election.
In the days following the recall election, stories began to surface that the election results were inconsistent with polling results conducted before the election, and with exit polls conducted on election day. Interestingly, Krugman argued in his alarmist column that exit polls should be used as a check on the honesty of the results on election day, to see whether the fix was in. If for instance, an exit poll showed Kerry ahead on Election Day in Florida, but Bush won the state in the actual tally on November 2nd, then we would know, Krugman told us, that the results were suspect.
All year so far, polling results in Florida have been within the margin of error, with one or the other candidate holding onto a narrow lead. It is of course very possible for a candidate to be ahead by a point or two in pre—election surveys, and even in an exit poll and still lose a state. In fact, this happened in 2000. Then—Governor Bush led in almost all pre—election surveys nationally by a point or two, but lost the popular vote by 0.6%.
But what is the likelihood that one side could lose in an exit poll by 18%, and win the election the same day by 18%? That, statisticians tell us, is virtually impossible. And that is what happened in Venezuela.
Doug Schoen, is a very respected Democratic Party pollster. He was President Clinton's favorite pollster, and remember that Clinton was so obsessed by polls that he once conducted a survey to determine where he should take his summer vacation in 1996. Schoen was a busy man during the Clinton years. Schoen's firm, which was hired by an opposition group in Venezuela, conducted pre—election surveys, and also undertook a large exit poll on the day of the Chavez recall. His pre—election surveys indicated that those who wanted to recall Chavez were ahead by at least 10%, and gaining momentum. In his exit poll, the margin for the anti—Chavez side grew to 18%. Schoen expressed disbelief when the results showed that Chavez retained his office by the same 18% margin. That, of course, is a 36% swing from an exit poll conducted the same day, or about six times the margin of error in terms of a vote shift. We are talking here of many standard deviations away from the expected result. That result is about as likely as Osama Bin Laden agreeing to be on Bill O'Reilly's show in person tomorrow night.
Another oddity that was revealed in the days following the election was the remarkable similarity in the vote count for one side or the other on individual voting machines. On over 400 voting machines, the anti—Chavez vote was identical —— down to the single vote. The most prominent defender of Chavez's election win, Jimmy Carter, responded in an op—ed that this meant nothing, since on over 300 polling machines, the vote to retain Chavez was also identical. One thing that Carter did not mention, however, was whether the vote for Chavez on the 300 machines, was higher than the vote recorded against Chavez in the other 400. Clearly, if the fix was in, one could record a maximum result for the anti—Chavez side on some polling machines (regardless of how many people voted against Chavez, in all likelihood a larger number) and also record a vote total for Chavez on other machines that was much higher than the actual vote total for Chavez.
The two things that are suggested by these results are that a fraud may have occurred, and that if it did, the fixers were lazy. Having identical vote totals on hundreds of different machines around the country is about as likely to occur as the results from the famous missing ballot box that was used to give 'Landslide Lyndon' Johnson his 87 vote victory in the Senate race in Texas in 1948. The votes in that mystery precinct when they finally turned up, were almost 100% for Johnson, and the voters who signed in to vote "that day" did so in alphabetical order, a first I am sure, even for Texas.
As critics of the results in Venezuela continued to challenge the outcome, the Carter Center called on a statistician from Stanford University, Jonathan Taylor, who analyzed the one issue of identical vote totals on hundreds of machines. He concluded that that occurrence was normal. His report, and other defenses of the election results were summarized in a lengthy article in the current issue of the Economist, written by a Carter Center staffer, Jennifer McCoy.
Now, three weeks after the election, the smokescreen of the Carter Center imprimatur has begun to be blown away. Perhaps not wanting to be identified with a fraud, Taylor has recanted his support for the premise that the identical results on hundreds of machines was not an aberration.
And two Venezuelan professors, including one from MIT, and another from Harvard have issued their own report,
concluding that there is at least a 99% chance that the election result was a fraud. Their study analyzed precinct vote totals with voter recall petition numbers, as well as with exit polling data. They found it highly unusual that the reported vote was significantly higher as a percentage of the petition count for the recall in those machines in precincts which were examined after the election than in those which were not. They suggested the possiblity that tampering occurred with selected machines.
Fifteen percent of Venezuela's voters used paper ballots. In these areas, the pro—Chavez forces won overwhelmingly, by 70%—30%, accounting for a third of the total margin of victory. Stuffing paper ballots is the easiest fraud to undertake. The Carter people dismiss this possibility by arguing that these voters were in rural areas (poorer), and naturally more supportive of Chavez.
There is no front page news story on this in the New York Times or Washington Post of course, and no editorial condemning Chavez for holding onto power through a probably—fixed election. And of course, there has been no criticism in the liberal press for Saint Jimmy, who has, over many years, sanctified the behavior and character of the leaders of North Korea, Yassar Arafat, the Sandanistas, Fidel Castro, and now Hugo Chavez. Carter, the Nobel Prize Peace Prize winner, is also the man who invited serial liar Michael Moore to share his Presidential box at the Democratic Convention, effectively anointing him by extension, as a truth—teller, like Carter himself.
But the association works the other way as well. When Carter associates himself with the likes of Moore, it throws into question his commitment to honesty in an undertaking like the Venezuelan elections. Moore cares only about results —— in his case defeating Bush. So it seems, does Carter.
The other real truth is that Jimmy Carter loves dictators, so long as they are enemies of America. And he plays off the respect he has accumulated in the 24 years since his landslide defeat in 1980 (the worst Electoral College loss ever for an incumbent President) for all that it is worth, and always in a predictable fashion. If you attack Republicans, America, or Israel, you are likely to be a friend of Jimmy Carter. The man, who some call the soul of the Democratic Party and the conscience of the world, has just provided a seal of approval for what may well have been a stolen election. Carter's statistician may have done an about—face, but Carter has not yet said a word about changing his own conclusion about the Venezuelan election. Perhaps Carter and Paul Krugman will make a joint statement about this in the coming days.