With electronic voting machines, it’s entirely plausible

Here’s what I saw the last time I went to Intrade (yes, I’ve been checking about 200,000 times per day):

I understand that in this situation, the Constitution dictates that the selection of a President goes to the IEEE 754R Technical Committee.

Joke-Killing Explanation for Non-Nerds: NaN is “Not a Number,” an error code in floating-point arithmetic for expressions like 0/0.  Evidently there’s a bug in Intrade’s script to add the expected electoral college votes.

45 Responses to “With electronic voting machines, it’s entirely plausible”

  1. evtujo Says:

    I saw that earlier too which mean I’m probably also checking about that often too. I have intrade open next to a tab for iowa electronic markets (winner take all) which fortunately doesn’t change as often….

  2. Joel Z Leibo Says:

    and they’ve fixed it by the time I show up

  3. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    We should ask Google to code up the system.

  4. epwripi Says:

    For an alternate (gloomier) prediction:

    http://election08.cs.uiuc.edu/

  5. Scott Says:

    epwripi: Despite my inherent pessimism, that map is too pessimistic even for me. He’ll get Pennsylvania and Minnesota, and he might not get Ohio but he’ll keep it in play. It’s really Colorado that I’m worried about. I think if he gets that, he’ll be at 273 or more. If he doesn’t, winning is possible but vastly less likely.

  6. harrison Says:

    Scott: Yeah, the feeling I get is that it’ll come down to Colorado. Pennsylvania’s probably still in play, as is Michigan, but so are Ohio and Florida on the red side, so…

    Also, I started laughing out loud in the Athena cluster at this post. Nice find.

  7. KaoriBlue Says:

    What I can’t figure out is… why the heck is Nadar running in this election? Doesn’t Obama stand for almost everything he does?

    It seems: (1) – thoroughly inconsequential to the outcome of this election, and (2) – suicidal for both him and his cause (whatever that might be at this point).

  8. panos Says:

    Just a weird thought that came up to my mind:
    How much do you think voters are affected, by these little candidate profile pictures? Or the last image, words, etc of each one?

    I mean, Obama in the left picture, seems cold and distant, while Mc’Cain has a more friendly body position, he is smiling and looks optimistic.

  9. Cody Says:

    I haven’t been checking it all day (and I had never seen it until this post), but when I did first check it, it read NaN, which was after the first three comments on this post (so apparently they didn’t ‘fix it’, it just changed).

    But now several hours later it is heavily in Obama’s favor again, does anyone know why that is?

    And does anyone know why Intrade has a category for Biden being withdrawn as VP nominee, but not Palin? I’m not aware of any Biden controversy, and I have many reasons I think Palin should be withdrawn, am I missing something, anyone know?

  10. Scott Says:

    Cody: They used to display an item for Palin being withdrawn on the front page; I’m guessing they’re now displaying Biden out of “balance.” Still, I think the probability for it is way too high. A lot of the individual state probabilities also seem wrong to me—Obama only has a 67% chance of winning Pennsylvania? McCain only has a 90% chance of winning Texas? If I were a betting man, I’d sign up and start betting… :-)

  11. Scott Says:

    I mean, Obama in the left picture, seems cold and distant, while Mc’Cain has a more friendly body position, he is smiling and looks optimistic.

    Or one could say that Obama looks focused and determined, while McCain looks more spaced out … I guess it depends on what people respond to.

  12. panos Says:

    Or one could say that Obama looks focused and determined, while McCain looks more spaced out … I guess it depends on what people respond to.

    Yes, I totally agree. I tend to believe that many people decide on such subconscious reflexes (the so-called undecided voters-which I will never understand why they are allowed to vote in the first place).

    Scott, I remember a post of yours asking what ‘nerds’ could do to help the Obama campaign. Was this guy that broke into Palin’s mail, a regular reader? :)

  13. KJ Says:

    Interestingly, of the states where concerns have been raised (about closeness) in this blog, only one has verifiable paper records and required manual audits: Minnesota. The expectation for the 2008 election is for Pennsylvania to have no verifiable paper records or required audits, Ohio and Michigan to have no required audits, Florida to have no voter verified paper audit trail printers, Colorado to have mixed paper ballot voting systems and direct recording electronic ballots some with and some without voter verified paper audit trail printers. Not very comforting. Ref: http://www.verifiedvoting.org/verifier/

  14. Sumwan Says:

    Well I wonder how they come up with these numbers in the first place, I am almost sure they are totally unreliable. Even when newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post publish results of polls they have conducted (with polling companies) I am surprised that the confidence interval they report are most often directly taken from tables relating the sample size to the 95% confidence interval for a proportion. They claim that their sample is “representative” but apparently uncertainties due to subtle biases do not contribute in widening the 95% confidence interval. And the existence of these biases is very probable. For example there might be a very long list of questions, and only the most patient people and most interested people will reach the end, or most individuals holding a certain opinion would prefer not to divulge it, etc. Also I believe it must pretty hard to choose a “representative” sample. If you had a list of all the citizens, and a way to contact them, and acceptable ways to make them say their true opinion, all what you would need is a pseudorandom number generator to be able to apply the confidence interval tables. But if these conditions are not fulfilled, your 95% confidence interval should be a lot larger. Exactly how much I don’t know.

  15. Nader Supporter Says:

    “What I can’t figure out is… why the heck is Nadar running in this election? Doesn’t Obama stand for almost everything he does?”

    No, Obama does stand for Nadar. Obama does not stand for single payer health insurance. Obama does not stand for the corporations to stop funding political campaigns. Obama does not stand against the military industrial complex. Obama does not stand for opening up the election debates to all candidates (what is he afraid of?). Obama does not stand against nuclear power. In fact, if you think that Obama stands for a *fraction* of the things Nadar stands for, then you have not read either of their platforms carefully.

  16. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Nader Supporter:

    Thanks for 8 years of GWB, the transfer of billions to the ultra rich, and plenty more. How old are you? It’s time to get off pot.

  17. KaoriBlue Says:

    I originally thought that a McCain win this election cycle would ironically lead to the collapse of the Reagan coalition… something I very much doubted would happen if the party were under siege by an Obama administration. For better or worse, Sarah Palin seems to have thoroughly dispelled this notion.

    However, I am starting to suspect that an Obama loss might shatter the current incarnation of the Democratic Party. I wonder what would emerge in its place?

    Nader Supporter – This is a bit lame (on my part), but let’s just agree to disagree about Obama. I really really didn’t mean to pick a fight over Obama’s positions. I’m just astonished that Nader’s actually running… seems like pretty atrocious timing.

  18. Daisy Duck Says:

    Scott,
    whenever I read “Stuff White People Like” I have the feeling you are the generic point of the scheme described.
    A baseless assumption certainly.

  19. Gilad Says:

    Nader Supporter, politics aside, surely if he thinks that Obama stands for a *fraction* of the things Nadar stands for, then he has not read one of their platforms carefully – you could know one of them by heart and still not be able to diff if you knew nothing of the other :-)

  20. Nader Supporter Says:

    “Thanks for 8 years of GWB, the transfer of billions to the ultra rich, and plenty more. How old are you? It’s time to get off pot.”

    I still find it strange when people say things like this. There are many undemocratic things to blame here such as the electoral system, our government system, and the corporate system that doesn’t let third party candidates in the debates. But why blame the voter who looks at the platforms and votes his conscious?

    If you have to make some complicated consideration each election as to why you should *not* vote your conscious, then is it democracy?

    Yes, Gilad, point taken.

  21. harrison Says:

    If you have to make some complicated consideration each election as to why you should *not* vote your conscious, then is it democracy?

    YES. Yes, it is. See: this.

  22. Scott Says:

    whenever I read “Stuff White People Like” I have the feeling you are the generic point of the scheme described.

    Personally, I found that site dishonest even by the standards of parody—firstly because it doesn’t actually mean “white people” but rather “left-leaning, urban white people who pursued higher education in liberal arts subjects” (but it can’t just come out and say that); and secondly because it lumps together silly tastes with commendable ones, sneering at all of them and evading distinctions. More importantly, it just isn’t very funny.

    Incidentally, of the 109 things listed on the site, I found only 25 that I definitely “like” (not counting those about which I’m neutral or insufficiently knowledgeable):

    * #109 The Onion
    * #99 Grammar
    * #91 San Francisco
    * #88 Having Gay Friends
    * #84 T-Shirts
    * #83 Bad Memories of High School
    * #81 Graduate School
    * #75 Threatening to Move to Canada
    * #64 Recycling
    * #61 Bicycles
    * #60 Toyota Prius
    * #58 Japan
    * #50 Irony
    * #48 Whole Foods and Grocery Co-ops
    * #46 The Sunday New York Times
    * #35 The Daily Show/Colbert Report
    * #33 Marijuana
    * #28 Not having a TV
    * #26 Manhattan (now Brooklyn too!)
    * #20 Being an expert on YOUR culture
    * #19 Traveling
    * #16 Gifted Children
    * #11 Asian Girls
    * #8 Barack Obama
    * #1 Coffee

  23. KaoriBlue Says:

    “Personally, I found that site dishonest even by the standards of parody—firstly because it doesn’t actually mean “white people” but rather “left-leaning, urban white people who pursued higher education in liberal arts subjects” (but can’t just come out and say that)…”

    Oh no… with a slight modification of #75, I have a 92% intersection with the items on Scott’s list. o__O

  24. cp702 Says:

    “Corporate system”? Really? How do corporations run political debates? Corporations are NOT all-powerful, they are not even close, and I have no idea why people think they are. Why would they want no third-party candidates in? Maybe thrd-party candidates don’t get in because almost no one cares about them.

  25. W. Banks Says:

    [Well, this is really as tangential as you can get to the question at hand but the libertarian site, Instapundit.com, cites the following which is at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1271310:

    The Obama-Tribe 'Curvature of Constitutional Space' Paper is Crackpot Physics

    Frank J. Tipler
    Tulane University

    September 20, 2008

    Abstract:
    The Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe published a paper entitled "The Curvature of Constitutional Space," wherein he argued that the strict constructionist interpretations of the U.S. Constitution were obsolete, being based on a Newtonian world-view, and need to be replaced by a more modern relativistic and quantum mechanical world-view. I shall show on the contrary that in using general relativity and quantum mechanics, we have never left the Newtonian world-view. It was shown in 1923 by the greatest geometer of the twentieth century, Elie Cartan, that in Newtonian theory, gravity is curvature just as it is in general relativity. The greatest twentieth century theoretical physicist in Poland, Andrzej Trautman, showed in 1966 that the equations of general relativity are mathematically equivalent to Newtonian gravitational field equations interacting with the luminiferous ether. Physics Nobel Prize winner Lev Landau showed in the 1930's that the Schrodinger equation, the basic equation of quantum mechanics, is a special case of the Hamilton-Jacobi equation, proven in 1837 to be the most powerful formulation of Newtonian mechanics. Erwin Schrodinger himself proved that his equation had nothing to do with probabilities or fundamental uncertainties. Since it was demonstrated mathematically decades ago that twentieth century physics is Newtonian mechanics, then by Laurence Tribe's own argument, it follows that all objections to strict constructionism are without merit. Tribe's physics is not post-Newtonian but pre-Newtonian, the physics of Aristotle, in which the arbitrary will of the powerful is the dominant influence in reality. Tribe's politics is, like his physics, profoundly reactionary, replacing unalterable law with the ever changing personal preferences of judges. As I shall demonstrate, the recent Boumedienne vs. Bush decision is a particularly egregious example of such replacement. Furthermore, Tribe's main books on Constitutional law are adversely influenced by his bad physics.

    Keywords: Tribe, physics, curvature, space, quantum mechanics, relativity, constitutional law, Obama

    JEL Classifications: K11, K41, A12, B30
    Working Paper Series
    Date posted: September 21, 2008 ; Last revised: September 21, 2008

    [I just don't know what to say about this other than it's interesting and you may want to delete.]

  26. Norton I Says:

    Here is the thing about Nader. He is dedicated to the idea that there should be more voices in politics than two major parties. He thinks it is more important than any single issue that we recognize that there may be more than two options to any given question, and moreover than the current system tries to make those answers very similar.

    I actually think Naders goals are commendable, though I think he drastically overstates the uniformity of our major party politicians.

    My real problem with Nader is that I think his plan to achieve these goals is stupid. He seems to confuse political power with access to ballots and debates. This is simply not true, and there is a huge body of evidence to support it.

    It is the electoral system itself that enforces the two party dynamic. As long as a 3rd candidate acts as a spoiler only people don’t care who wins will ever vote for a 3rd party. What is needed is actual reform of the electoral system. A perfect system is, of course, impossible, but any system that allows preferential voting or runoffs would help. The only way to do this is a *real* bottom up campaign. If Nader wants to do this, he should be recruiting local candidates, particularly democrats and republicans to run for city council and state representatives with part of their platform being reformed voting.

  27. Warren Says:

    The Intrade markets are surprisingly inefficient. Currently one can buy/sell “republicans win” for 46.1/46.0 and buy/sell “McCain wins” for 47.0/46.4. That suggests a probability of McCain changing parties and still winning of at least .3%, which is absurdly high. You currently can sell the 8 individual candidates on Intrade for a grand total of 102.2. This would be a risk-free way of making 2% except that there’s apparently a 0.3-0.5 point commission on trades so those 8 trades would eliminate the profit margin. There’s also a 1 point fee when markets are settled.

    The Iowa electronic market, as a non-profit, does not appear to have any fees. Some of its markets have really large bid/ask spreads, but none of the fee-induced contradictions of the Intrade markets. If I had an infinite amount of time I would write a market maker for Iowa EM to reduce those spreads and make a little money.

  28. Nader Supporter Says:

    “Why would they want no third-party candidates in? Maybe third-party candidates don’t get in because almost no one cares about them.”

    The “almost no one”s, who care about the third party candidates, may as well vote for Nader, since they are “almost no one” and therefore obviously insignificant in number. If they are not “almost no one” and perhaps significant enough in number to change the outcome of the election, then maybe someone should listen to them and let their candidates into the debates.

  29. Nader Supporter Says:

    “I actually think Naders goals are commendable, though I think he drastically overstates the uniformity of our major party politicians.”

    Really? Do you realize that if only one of Obama (or McCain) were to simply say, “I will not vote for this bailout!”, he would probably win the election? But they can’t do that, because they are both in the pockets of the corporations asking for the bailouts. It should be so easy for Obama to win. He just has to say those seven words. But he won’t. And if he loses, he will blame it on the Nader voters.

  30. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Nader Supporter:

    I might agree with 90% of Nader’s positions. But many of them are “perfect world” idealizations that are not going to happen any time soon. The voters may or may not agree with him, but the vast majority — left, right, and middle — correctly recognize that he is bonkers and will never vote for him. So all he can do is be a spoiler for those who mostly agree with him. Why? Egotistical dork is my guess.

    As far as the “seven words” goes, certainly most people are not happy about any type of bailout. But voting against something like it might cause a world wide economic meltdown. No doubt the Naderistas would welcome this so they could say “I voted for Nader” as chaos ensued.

  31. Cody Says:

    Nader Supporter, although I think that Nader’s goals are in many ways admirable, voting for him seems to me to be the equivalent of ditching your car out of the belief that it is the most significant way an individual can combat global warming, when trading it in for a more ecological friendly car might be a more ‘productive’ decision. Only with Nader it is as if ditching your car somehow reduces the prices of Hummers everywhere.

    It is a real conundrum to have the one guy you really relate to in a position that hurts the next best guy. (Actually I really like Mike Gravel, who is completely inconsequential.) But if supporting my guy means even the potential of tipping the balance in the oppositions’ favor, then I will support “the lesser of two evils”, in spite of the discomfort carried by supporting evil of any sort.

  32. Yatima Says:

    “But voting against something like it might cause a world wide economic meltdown.”

    I am not an Economist (phew) but – the Great Depression was actually introduced with a bailout. So I’m not confident that the presently discussed bailout, which looks to be a transfer of future tax income to exactly those people who efficiently transformed your retirement money into their weekend houses, will somehow be more effective at saving the economy. Even if it involves 3 orders of magnitude more greenbacks. Japan is another of these examples of bailouts ineffectiveness.

  33. Michael Bacon Says:

    Sorry Scott, I know its way off topic, but timely nevertheless:

    “In a dramatic turn, GOP Sen. Richard Shelby emerged from a White House meeting on a $700 billion Wall Street bailout to say: “I don’t believe we have an agreement.””

    So, McCain strikes!

  34. Johan Richter Says:

    Yatima, the so-called austrian economists are basically a bunch of crackpots.

    See the following brilliant refutation by Krugman of their business cycle theory http://www.pkarchive.org/cranks/hangover.html, from the time when he wasn’t a partisan hack.

  35. harrison Says:

    Johan,

    Yeah, the Austrians are kind of crazy, but it’s pretty widely accepted that the government was DOING IT WRONG somehow during the early years of the Depression (see also: Milton Friedman’s theory, Smoot-Hawley). Which is why we should be way more cautious than we are being in terms of this bailout — because it’s nigh-impossible to predict in advance what kind of effect government action will have on the economy.

  36. Yatima Says:

    Yatima, the so-called austrian economists are basically a bunch of crackpots.

    I do not pretend to take any sides in Krugman (old-school Keynesians?) vs. The Austrians (FIGHT!!). Still, Austrian ideas make sense to me, my crackpot detector is indicating low values, and they have also have sharp and well-reasoned refutations going the other way, for example here and here. As such, the adjective “crackpot” should be downgraded to “non-mainstream”, especially given the abysmal track record of the mainstream economists.

    I would never have imagined that economics was riven by similar battles as rage in current theoretical physics (as in self-assured String Theorists vs. “crackpots” who nevertheless make eminent sense to me and have actually better arguments).

  37. Yatima Says:

    I even found a refutation of Krugman’s “Hangover Theory” article. What more does one need for an evening in front of the fireplace? Ah yes, a glass of red wine.

  38. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Economics is a complex and slippery subject. There is little reason to think anyone understands it, including economists.

    But the overall structure of the current crisis is simple in black box terms:

    ***

    In the last eight years, a lot of money, perhaps terabucks (trillions of dollars), has been transferred to the ultra wealthy. That money is not coming out of thin air. We are starting to see where it comes from.

    ***

    This is what Democrats should make their ONLY campaign issue.

  39. Aaron Brown Says:

    I understand that in this situation, the Constitution dictates that the selection of a President goes to the IEEE 754R Technical Committee.

    I love you.

  40. Stas Says:

    In the last eight years, a lot of money, perhaps terabucks (trillions of dollars), has been transferred to the ultra wealthy. That money is not coming out of thin air. We are starting to see where it comes from.

    That’s not true. During “good” years of rising stock market and real estate prices notional wealth of investors goes up along with them. When the prices go down, the wealth disappear. So, the total wealth is not preserved like energy. You may want to read this as a good informal description of what happened in this crisis.

  41. polymorphic Says:

    Your other thread closed but since this is still politics.. Without incentive the voting method will never change. Thus, I will never vote for a Democrat or a Republican until the voting method has changed to Approval Voting or the like.

    Thank you for acknowledging the irony of “non-Darwinists” outperforming Darwinists. Most science bloggers champion women’s rights for all the good reasons but fail to see that the reproductive success of mind viruses trumps the enlightenment faction.

  42. polymorphic Says:

    … the reason is that without upgrading the plurality voting method, the good party will always lean towards the evil party since that will get them more votes.

    Reference the another commenter’s mention of Biden supporting spying. Also he voted for the war.

    If politics wasn’t broken how could you or anyone else conceivably try to tell third party voters that they’re wrong when your recommendation is to vote for someone (Biden) who voted for the Iraq War. How? It’s inconceivable.

  43. Cody Says:

    polymorphic, do you expect your abstention from voting to create incentive for alternatives such as approval voting? And if not, do you think that one or another candidate might be infinitesimally more/less likely to influence the likelihood of the voting method changing?
    And what do you mean the ‘good’ party will lean towards the ‘evil’ party and that will get them more votes? Do you just mean it pays to be ‘evil’?

  44. John Sidles Says:

    The fun thing about moribund threads is that even links like this seem relevant … it made me smile! :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j50ZssEojtM

  45. polymorphic Says:

    Cody:

    I don’t expect there to be much incentive for alternatives to plurality voting. (As an experiment lie to a friend and say that you’re voting for a 3rd party and watch the veins pop as they deny your right to vote your preference.) It’s more the principle of the thing. The Democrats would be more likely to support alternatives and some have said so.

    Poor choice of words. Replace good and evil with centrism. The 2 party system provides stability for the Republic but look at the war vote for Iraq. There’s no fresh air of competition, particularly given that we’re in a post-merger mass media and government funded religion. One complaint about multiple party systems is that they never get anything done. Authentic advocates of small government would say that’s a good thing.

    100% of the 1 independents voted against the Iraq War. I’d like to see more independents to see if that trend of common sense can be extrapolated. Otherwise we’ll be enjoying more Freedom Fries in the long run.