Democrats.Com Exclusive: Absentee Ballot Counting Fraud Found In Escambia County
According to an investigation by Democrats.com, a close analysis of the Miami Herald's overvote data provides overwhelming evidence of the fraudulent counting of absentee ballots in heavily Republican Escambia County. George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Escambia by a nearly 2 to 1 margin at the polls (62%-38%), but won absentees by nearly 3 to 1 (73%-27%). The "smoking gun" for fraud is the fact that the Herald data contains not ONE single overvoted ballot in which there were only two marks for President, which is inconceivable when data from comparable counties is analyzed. There is clearly sufficient evidence to launch a criminal investigation into the way in which ballots were counted in Escambia County. A criminal investigation would fall under the jurisdiction of Florida's Attorney General or Escambia County's state attorney. But there are also important grounds for the federal government to launch its own investigation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Election Night in Escambia County
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Escambia County's Republican-dominated Election Canvassing Board stayed up until 2 a.m. on election night, "duplicating" over 2,400 absentee ballots that were either overvoted or undervoted. Some ballots were looked at two or three times to make sure that as many absentee votes as possible were recorded.
The purpose of this "duplication" was to make clean copies of absentee ballots that could not be read by the counting machines for one reason or another. However, this "duplication" was technically illegal. The ballots should have been counted by hand, and not duplicated, according to Florida law (FS 101.5614 (5)).
According to the Sentinel, about 10,000 ballots were duplicated in 26 counties, almost all of which used optical scan tabulating machines that were located in each precinct. Most of these counties were dominated by Republicans.
Al Gore's lawyers were apparently unaware of this practice. Had they known about it, Gore's lawyers would have been better able to discredit the Bush campaign's core argument that manual counting of machine-unreadable ballots was both inaccurate and illegal.
The Data: Escambia Stands Alone
Escambia County accounted for almost one quarter of those duplicated ballots. Those 2,400 duplicated ballots represented over 11% of all the absentee ballots cast in Escambia County.
But the Miami Herald overvote data shows that Escambia County almost certainly was doing a lot more than simply duplicating what was actually on the ballot. The "smoking gun" is the fact that the Herald data contains not ONE single overvoted ballot in which there were only two marks for President.
How unusual is this fact? Of the sixty counties where the absentee overvote could be isolated, Escambia is the ONLY county that had no "double-marked" absentee overvoted ballots.
According to Florida law, it is illegal to count a ballot on which a mark is made for more than one named candidate. But of the over 21,000 people who voted by absentee ballot in Escambia County, the county board found not ONE single double-voted ballot for which it could not determine voter intent.
These tables provide an idea of how anomalous the Escambia County results are. Among comparably-sized counties, Lake County is a good place to start any comparison, because it had a large number of absentee votes and overvoted ballots, but did not handcount and duplicate any of its overvoted ballots.
When the Miami Herald looked at the Lake County overvotes, they found 3,103 total. 1,615 (52%) of those were ballots with only two marks. The Herald was able to determine voter intent on 953 (31%) of the absentee overvotes, which means that the Herald could not determine voter intent on at least 662 (41%) of the Lake County double-marked ballots. (662 is a minimum because it assumes that ALL the ballots that the Herald found votes on were from the pool of double-voted ballots. However, it is likely that at least some of the multiple-marked ballots showed voter intent.)
We see much the same thing when we focus in on the overvotes found among Lake County's absentee ballots. Out of over 11,600 absentee ballots cast in Lake County, there were 227 total overvotes, of which 125 (55%) were double-marked. The Herald found 86 (38%) valid votes among these absentee overvotes, which means that voter intent could not be discerned on at least 39 (31%) of the double-marked ballots.
Like Lake County, Escambia County did not look at the poll-cast overvotes. The Herald found 3,201 poll-cast overvotes in Escambia, of which 1,531 were double-marked (48%). The Herald managed to recover only 421 (13%) of the poll-cast overvotes, which means that there were at least 1,110 (73%) ballots with double marks on which voter intent could not be determined.
But unlike Lake County, Escambia County looked at the absentee overvoted ballots, and duplicated those on which it could discern voter intent. Astonishingly, there was not ONE ballot with just two marks on it for which the Escambia County Canvassing Board could not determine voter intent. In other words, out of over 21,200 absentee ballots cast in Escambia County, there was not ONE single ballot with two marks on it that the Canvassing Board could not figure out. This is especially odd, when one considers that the Miami Herald could only determine voter intent on at most 421 (27%) of 1,531 double-marked ballots cast at the polls.
The table shows that there should have been, at an absolute bare minimum, roughly 100 double-marked absentee ballots in Escambia. Even among those counties that handcounted and duplicated their ballots, the number of double-marked overvoted ballots was at least one-third (33%) of multiple-marked ballots, so multiplying Escambia's 296 multiple-marked absentee overvotes by 33% would produce roughly 100 double-marked absentee ballots. Yet according to the Herald data, the Escambia County Board was able to determine the voter intent on EVERY SINGLE ONE of those ballots. The Herald never even came close to a 100% recovery rate on any group of overvoted ballots.
The Likely Explanation: Official Fraud
There are only two possible explanations for this extraordinary outcome: Either the data provided by the Herald is completely wrong for Escambia County, or Escambia County committed fraud when it counted its absentee ballots. It does not appear likely that the Herald data is incorrect; however, requests for the Herald to verify its Escambia County data have so far met with silence.
What motive could Escambia officials have had to commit fraud late on Election night? Shortly before 8 p.m. in the east, the TV networks projected Al Gore as the winner of Florida. The Bush campaign was counting on Florida in order to win, and geared up to challenge the TV projections. It is entirely possible that Florida Republican leaders sent word to friendly county officials to do everything possible to record votes for Bush, while doing everything possible to avoid counting votes for Gore.
The question of what exactly the Escambia County Board did with the ballots is intriguing, but ultimately irrelevant. Perhaps they erased some marks on Bush ballots, and added marks on Gore ballots, then duplicated these "corrected" ballots to get the outcome they desired. Or perhaps they just created a whole pile of phony ballots for Bush, and pulled all the double-marked ballots out of the "overvoted" pile. The fact is that on the night of November 7, there was absolutely no reason for the Escambia County Board to suspect that anyone would ever consider scrutinizing their absentee ballots; as the Miami Herald has stated, such scrutiny is "unprecedented".
The possibility of fraud is further enhanced when one considers other actions of the Escambia County Board. Despite having the capacity to tell voters at the polls whether their ballots had overvotes and/or undervotes on them, Escambia County chose to turn off the "voter protection" feature on its precinct based scanners. The reason given was the cost of providing ballots for people who made mistakes (about 23 cents each). In other words, after spending over a half million dollars to buy machines that would tell voters that they had made a mistake, the county "saved" less than $750 by not telling 3,201 people that their ballots had been overvoted at the polls. Nevertheless, the county did spend over $550 on duplicate ballots for absentee votes.
Escambia is also suspect because unlike every other Florida County, when Escambia provided the Herald with its overvoted and undervoted ballots, it did not provide them precinct-by-precinct. Instead it presented them in four groups: two that were ballots cast at the polls, and two others that were absentee ballots. Nor has Escambia County responded to various requests for precinct-based breakdowns of its overvoted and undervoted ballots.
There is clearly sufficient evidence to launch a criminal investigation into the way in which ballots were counted in Escambia County. A criminal investigation would fall under the jurisdiction of Florida's Attorney General or Escambia County's state attorney. But there are also important grounds for the federal government to launch its own investigation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
It is highly likely that there is an historical pattern of higher percentages of blacks voting at the polls, rather than voting by absentee ballot. Consequently, the decision to turn off voter protection at the polls while going to the time and expense of duplicating absentee ballots that were overvoted and undervoted must be seen as an intentional act of discrimination against black voters. Such discrimination would be a violation of the United States Constitution, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and requires an immediate federal investigation.
Possible Problems in Bay and Santa Rosa
The Herald data suggests that Escambia County was not alone in the fraudulent counting of ballots. On average, at least 1 (1%) in every 109 optically scanned absentee ballot was overvoted. But two other counties - Bay and Santa Rosa - achieved a "voter intent" recovery rate for there overvoted absentee ballots that was far greater than what could be expected.
Bay County had nearly 12,300 absentee votes, but only 6 (.05%) absentee overvotes, all of them double-marked. (According to the Orlando Sentinel, Bay County duplicated many absentee ballots, and is refusing access to the original ballots). And Santa Rosa County, with only 1 (.01%) overvoted absentee ballot out of over 7,600 cast, also deserves further scrutiny.
(1) Our analysis is based on data provided by the Miami Herald. However, the Herald has not yet responded to requests for confirmation of this data. The data is available for examination at http://bushboyzstolethevote.com/votes.htm
Our analysis is documented in these tables.
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