The mainstream media have mostly ignored a statistical study conducted by faculty and students of the University of California at Berkeley sociology department on voting irregularities in Florida in the 2004 presidential election that found major discrepancies in vote counts between counties that utilized electronic voting machines (e-voting) and those that used traditional voting methods. The study, released on November 18, determined that President George W. Bush may have wrongly been awarded between 130,000 and 260,000 extra votes in Florida -- 130,000 if they were all "ghost votes" created by machine error, or twice that if votes intended for Senator John Kerry were misattributed to Bush.
Even though decreasing Bush's margin of victory by as many as 260,000 votes would not change the winner in Florida, the findings of the study are still important. The study, at the very least, highlights the lack of accountability in counties that rely on paperless electronic voting machines, and, more generally, the lack of confidence inspired by a system of elections that, as a November 18 article on Salon.com noted, "so easily creaked and groaned under the pressure."
According to the Berkeley study:
- Irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have awarded 130,000 excess votes or more to Bush in Florida.
- Compared to counties with paper ballots, counties with electronic voting machines were significantly more likely to show increases in support for 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, Bush appears to have received approximately 72,000 excess votes.
- The Berkeley researchers can be 99.9 percent sure that these effects are not attributable to chance.
Media Matters for America has documented the mainstream media's cursory coverage of reports of election irregularities: They were dismissed as "conspiracy theories," as The Washington Post did on November 10, or ignored altogether. The coverage given to the Berkeley study represented a continuation of that pattern. A Nexis search revealed that the Berkeley study has not been covered on any of the cable or broadcast news networks and has received little attention in the print media:
- A November 19 Associated Press article on academia's "fixation" on Senator John Kerry mentioned how the Berkeley study has increased "Internet buzz" about the possibility of flawed election returns. The article questioned the study's findings by quoting its critics who "say Bush's success may simply be due to a better get-out-the-vote effort, or fears of terrorism driving many Democrats to choose Bush over party loyalty" and listing possibly influential factors that were not included in the study such as "the number of campaign visits that the Bush campaign made to a county, or the number of residents who consider themselves evangelical Christians." The AP article was picked up by The Miami Herald (November 20), The Indianapolis Star (November 20), the Los Angeles Times (November 19), and The Boston Globe (November 19), among others.
- A November 19 article in the Oakland Tribune on the Berkeley study noted that a Massachusetts Institute of Technology political scientist was asked by the Tribune and the Associated Press to replicate the analysis of the study. He succeeded in doing so, and said that an investigation into the discrepancy was "warranted."
- An article on the Berkeley study appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on November 19.
- The technology news website CNET News.com published a November 19 article on the study, which also appeared on The New York Times website. The report quotes a Princeton University professor of microbiology who conducted an independent analysis, using different methods, that produced results similar to those of the Berkeley study. The Princeton professor also lent credence to the study, saying: "Their analysis indicates that even when all these variables [within the study] are accounted for, a significant difference remains between counties that used electronic voting and counties that used optical scanning or paper ballots."
Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, discussed the Berkeley study and the November 19 Oakland Tribune article in a November 21 entry on his MSNBC.com weblog. Olbermann has received criticism from conservatives in the media for his coverage of reports of election irregularities and the lack of media attention being paid to them, as MMFA has noted.