Minnesota Recount: It May be Over

Just a quick note. As the Minnesota Governor’s Race recount proceeds, it became apparent, as many of us predicted, that Emmer’s standing in that context has moved in the wrong direction from his perspective. He will end up losing this race by more votes than had he simply conceded to begin with. It is now expected that Emmer will concede the race any moment now, which has apparently (though this is unofficial) prompted the Electio Canvassing Board to cancel today’s meeting at which the contested votes would have been examined.

This allows the Republicans to say “We lost by fewer than 9,000 votes” instead of “we lost by more than 9000 votes,” I suppose.

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13 thoughts on “Minnesota Recount: It May be Over

  1. The big question is whether any other conservative group is stupid enough to try to block Dayton’s assumption of office. The tactics of Emmer’s team that have been seen as delays have been wildly unpopular.

  2. MadScientist, the recount is mandated by state law at margins below 0.5%. Now, there is some talk about changing the law based on what the last two recounts have shown to be more reasonable margins of doubt under the current system.

  3. It is mandated, but only where there are standing candidates. Had Emmer conceded on election night, there would have been no recount. But yes, it is appropriate that it be paid for by the gov. Most of the cost is born by counties.

    There are recounts every year, here and there in the state. Stwiching from 0.05 to half that would suddenly save a pile of money.

  4. Need to be careful when thinking about changing the rules here. A candidate can always challenge a count but the costs are then born by the candidate. If the rules are changed maybe the Emmer-Dayton election would have saved some money, but what about Coleman-Franken? Coleman won that election initially. If the margins are made smaller, then maybe the Franken recount can’t be done successfully because there isn’t enough money/contributions to pay for it. (I realize a lot of personal money was used in the Franken recount, but a lot more would have been necessary if it hadn’t been an automatic recount.)

  5. Good point. Also, to be clear, the candidates DO pay costs in the recount. The counties just count. Watchers, challengers, lawyers, others are a mix of paid professionals and volunteers that the campaigns pay for. I think Franken may still be paying for the recount.

  6. I’m not so sure there is a need to change the threshold for a mandatory recount. If I make the spherical cow level approximation that errors in vote totals can be described by Poisson statistical noise, that means a standard deviation of ~1400 votes in a statewide contest in Minnesota, where we typically see ~2 million votes cast. The 0.5% threshold is ~10k votes, which is about 7x the Poisson standard deviation, and you want the recount threshold to be several times the expected error level–3σ would be an absolute minimum, and I’d be more comfortable with 5-10σ. The safety factor is much less when you get to Congressional and state legislature races, not to mention county and local races in rural parts of the state.

    Experience tells us that the actual errors in Coleman-Franken and Emmer-Dayton were substantially smaller than Poisson level, so that assumption gives us an additional safety factor. But I think I’d still want the 0.5% threshold if I were a candidate in a local race.

  7. Eric, the method used in Minnesota to count the votes by machine is almost the same as a hand count, and both are pretty accurate. A recent audit by an independent group found the discrepancy between the optical-scan counts and a hand tally of 0.00056%.

    I’m not sure what the justification is for calling this a poison distribution, nor am I comfortable attributing variance to this number based on a theoretical distribution of any type. Almost all the errors are undervotes, there are not many of them, and the question is not what is the probability of an undervote, but rather, what is the distribution of undervotes across candidates. That is probably a normal distribution.

  8. Also, I just found this: The 0.42 percent lead Dayton had in this race is larger than any result overturned in any recount ever in any state. So, whatever the distribution type and parameters one wants, it has to include 0.42 as a very very unlikely outcome, if that observation is correct. http://tinyurl.com/299z3jf

  9. A recent audit by an independent group found the discrepancy between the optical-scan counts and a hand tally of 0.00056%.

    I’m not sure I trust this number either, because it implies a shift of 11 votes in a statewide race, and we know the shift in Franken-Coleman was more like a few hundred votes.

    As I said, the Poisson distribution was a spherical cow approximation–I didn’t know enough about Minnesota’s process (I have never lived there) to get a better estimate than that. The reason for assuming a Poisson distribution is that it’s what you use when you are counting events that don’t have fixed recurrence times, and it’s easy to calculate the standard deviation: if you counted N events than σ = sqrt(N). An election may not satisfy the second part of that, but you are certainly counting events (votes) if you think the election means anything. The random error in polls is due to Poisson noise. Systematics, such as bad poll design or tendency to undercount votes, are the next level of sophistication.

    Now that you have clarified that the machines will tend to undercount, Poisson statistics would apply to how you expect the additional votes to be distributed. Again, you are counting events (undervotes), and this time you know that the recurrence interval isn’t fixed (you know that a certain fraction of ballots will be undercounted, but you don’t know in advance which ones they are). The Poisson distribution looks like a normal distribution if the number of events is high enough, but for low N there is a noticeable difference.

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