Election verification exit poll

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This article is based on "Election Verification Exit Poll," an Encylopedia entry authored by Kenneth F. Warren, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Saint Louis University and published in the Encyclopedia of Campaigns and Elections (Sage, 2008). It is used here with permission. As with all SourceWatch articles, feel free to edit and revise.


Introduction

Around the world, exit polls are used as a standard of election verification. Whenever there's a disparity between exit poll results and election results, we suspect that the disparity may be due to election fraud. In the US, however, media exit pollsters have insisted that their polls are not designed (and therefore cannot be used) to detect fraud. Rather, their purpose is to project winners of races and provide material for news coverage.[1]

Critics claim that things are used for purposes other than which they are designed all the time, and that media polls could be used to detect, and even prosecute, fraud if the media would release its data.[2] Nevertheless, it is true that the purposes are different, and so the resulting methodologies differ. To be able to project a winner, the media will strategically poll many precincts to obtain a representative sample for an entire district (e.g., state, city). Media exit polls also often gather extensive demographic data to be able to tell how, for example, different demographic groups voted and why they voted as they did. Most of the polling is done well before polling places close on Election Day so the exit poll results can be tabulated and presented by the news outlets immediately after the polls close.

Contrast with media exit polls

In contrast, an election verification exit poll’s objective is not to predict election results, but rather to audit or verify the accuracy of vote counts in selected precincts. Therefore, EVEP pollsters focus on targeted precincts, polling very comprehensively so official election results in these targeted precincts can be verified. For example, in the 2006 congressional elections The Warren Poll, sponsored by Election Integrity, interviewed close to 6000 voters in selected precincts in Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester counties in Pennsylvania. However, since verifying particular precinct results is not an objective of media exit polls, typically only 1000-2000 voters are interviewed in an entire state, meaning that relatively few voters are interviewed in any given precinct. Consequently, an EVEP should be considerably more reliable for the targeted precincts than media exit polling would be since a much larger sample of voters would be interviewed in these selected precincts. Therefore, if EVEP results differ significantly from the actual reported results in the targeted precincts, it would be reasonable to conclude that something is wrong with the official count, especially considering that exit poll methodologies have normally proved quite reliable. It should be noted that media exit polling has incidentally served to cast doubt on official vote counts, but such polling is not particularly designed to verify election results. [3]

Interest in exit polls and EVEPs

Why have certain election integrity groups in recent years pushed for more EVEPs? The primary reason is that it has become clear that official counts have not always been accurate due to innocent errors or election fraud. Exit polling in the United States, as well as in other countries of the world, have been used to question the official results. For example, in the 2000 election in Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic claimed that he had defeated Vojislav Kostunica. However, exit polling cast great doubt as to the accuracy of the reported count, suggesting that the vote count had been corrupted. Public and media pressure eventually forced him to concede, turning a stolen election into an honest election result.[3]

EVEPs as tools to prove election fraud

Of course, the honesty of vote counts in the United States has been widely questioned ever since the 2000 presidential recount fiasco in Florida. The introduction of new electronic voting machines, especially ones that produce no paper trails, has caused many groups, including a considerable number of state and national political leaders, to call for remedies to vote count problems. Some have specifically advocated the use of EVEPs, especially in precincts that have historically had problems with fair vote counts. EVEP proponents believe that EVEP findings can be used to challenge dubious official vote counts in court. [3]

However, EVEPs have inherent weaknesses, especially as legal weapons in lawsuits. Obviously, EVEP results are not 100% accurate. That is, they are subject to an error margin, making them very difficult to use to challenge any election results that are close. Also, obtaining a truly random representative sample is problematic since some voters will not respond to the poll. Critics, for instance, have noted that exit polls have tended to overestimate the Democratic vote in their polling because, they allege without proof, more Republicans than Democrats have refused to answer the pollster’s questions. Methodologically, this sort of sampling error is not easy to correct. Another serious problem is caused by the various ways people can vote (e.g., early voting, absentee voting, provisional voting, and regular voting). Obviously, EVEP pollsters cannot poll those who vote early or vote absentee. Also, Election Boards or election authorities historically have not been very cooperative with exit pollsters, preventing pollsters from comparing apples (regular votes cast) with apples (regular votes cast). If election board officials merge all the different kinds of voting alternatives, pollsters cannot accurately verify vote counts because EVEP pollsters interview only those who have cast regular ballots, or possibly provisional ballots. The problem is made worse by the reality that election officials tend to be the least cooperative in those very polling places targeted by EVEP pollsters as the most likely to produce corrupted vote counts. All this makes the future use of EVEPs uncertain, although they still have potential to be used as a legitimate auditing tool in elections.[3]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. Warren Mitofsky, “2004 Exit Polls: What Bloggers And Others Got Wrong” [Presentation to the American Statistical Association], Philadelphia, October 14, 2005
  2. Steven F. Freeman, Who Really Won – and Lost – the 2004 US Presidential Election? Presentation to the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Montreal, May 19, 2006
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Kenneth F. Warren, "Election Verification Exit Poll" in the Encyclopedia of Campaigns and Elections (Sage, 2008)

External resources

Books

Websites

Articles

  • Kenneth F. Warren, "Election Verification Exit Poll" in the Encyclopedia of Campaigns and Elections (Sage, 2008)
  • Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., “Was the 2004 Election Stolen?”, Rolling Stone (June 2, 2006)