I’m really not a political person, but I found myself getting caught up in this year’s presidential election. I think it’s because this is the first time I’ve been on Facebook during an election, and it’s hard to ignore all the political mumbo-jumbo that goes on. Even though I generally try not to get into political debates, there are a few subjects that I have hard time resisting. Plus, it irks me when people post things without exercising their critical thinking skills. That’s what really gets me riled up.

Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about: a recent petition posted on the White House website. The petition claims that there was voter fraud in the recent election. Here’s the text of the petition:

Recount the election!

It has become blatantly obvious the voter fraud that was committed during the 2012 Presidential elections. In one county alone in Ohio, which was a battleground state, President Obama received 106,258 votes…but there were only 98,213 eligible voters. It’s not humanly possible to get 108% of the vote!

If ID laws had been enforced (which the administration is completely against because that meant they would lose) then this wouldn’t be an issue.

Recount NOW!

The first thing that ran through my mind upon reading the petition was this: Where are you getting your data? The petition provides no links and doesn’t even mention which county in Ohio they are referring to. Great.

The fun thing about these petitions is that literally anybody can post them, and yet there’s no way that I know of to identify who posts them. So obviously, we should just trust them blindly.

In this case, a little digging turned up that the petition must have been referring to Wood County, Ohio. An article on Cleveland.com reported that Wood County had 106,258 registered voters as of September 2, 2012, and 98,213 eligible voters. Good enough so far. Those numbers do look suspicious. If there are only 98,213 people eligible to vote, how could they possibly have 106,258 people registered to vote?

Ohio Registered Voters

Let’s look at where the numbers came from (more digging!). At the bottom of the chart, we find out that they come from a Plain Dealer analysis of data from the Ohio Secretary of State (for the number of registered voters, I would assume) and the U.S. Census Bureau (for the number of eligible voters, i.e. the number of people over 18 in the county). The last census was in 2011, where it was reported that 126,355 people lived in Wood County. Of those, 21.3% were under 18, leaving 99,441 people of voting age in 2011. That number must have been modified somehow to reflect the number of eligible voters in 2012. The number is pretty close to what Cleveland.com reported, so maybe the Plain Dealer analysis of the numbers is fairly accurate. But here’s the thing: it’s still an estimate.

Ohio Population

And the data on the number of registered voters isn’t foolproof, either. When people die, it takes time to get them off the rolls. In North Carolina there were 27,500 dead people still on the voter rolls. (Update: A commenter below pointed out that Wood County is home to a major university, where the fluctuating student population probably makes it impossible to keep truly accurate voter rolls.) So we can’t put 100% of our trust in the data on the number of registered voters any more than we can on the number of eligible voters. Either one could be inaccurate.

So what are we to do? Luckily, all of that doesn’t matter much, because we’ve been asking the wrong question. The makers of the petition have already gotten us on the wrong track. Let’s pretend the numbers are correct for a moment and go back to what the petition actually said. The petition said “President Obama received 106,258 votes…but there were only 98,213 eligible voters.”

Somehow the petition has taken the number of registered voters and substituted it for the number of votes Obama got. I doubt that President Obama received 106,258 votes—unless every single one of the registered voters did in fact vote for Obama. What are the chances that 100% of the registered voters voted for a single candidate in a swing state? Luckily, that’s pretty easy to find out.

Source #1: Google Politics & Elections (click on Ohio, then hover over Wood County, the blue one just between Toledo and Findlay on the top left of the map)

Source #2: Wood County’s own unofficial election results

Wood County 2012 Election Results

According to both of these reliable sources, Obama got 31,596 votes in Wood County. That’s only 50.9% of the registered voters.

The petition was right about one thing. It’s definitely not possible to get 108% of the vote, not even with some very creative misinterpretation of the data.

Does that mean there’s nothing wrong with the voting process? No. Maybe we could start by purging all the dead people from the voting rolls. Maybe something can be done about voter ID laws. I haven’t researched that subject and don’t really care to. For now, I’m content to have avoided being tricked into signing a flawed petition from an unidentifiable source.

Note: I should mention that I owe a lot of the research in this post to an article on the Daily Kos. I didn’t link to it at first because I disapprove of the article’s tone. Spare me the name calling and just give me the facts. But I feel I owe them the link.

A Political Post on the Trustworthiness of White House Petitions

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Nameless
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Nameless

There’s a large university campus in Wood County, which is home to about 15,000 undergraduate students (15% of all eligible voters). The undergraduate student population is completely replaced every 4 years. Presumably, some of these students leave the state after graduation, and the registrar of voters has no way of knowing right away that those students are no longer there.

Ben
Guest

Good point, Nameless. Bowling Green State University is in Wood County. The fluctuating student population probably wreaks havok with the voting rolls.

Jared
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Jared

Arguing on the internet is always a phenomenal waste of time (not to say I don’t do it every chance I get), and I don’t really have the interest in spending time doing as much research as Ben appears to have done, but all I want to say is… In-person voter fraud is virtually nonexistent—if The Daily Show and/or The Colbert Report (where I get all my political news, obviously) is to believed. (Oh, fine: http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2012/sep/19/naacp/-person-voter-fraud-very-rare-phenomenon/, http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/policy_brief_on_the_truth_about_voter_fraud/, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/08/14/1120075/-Study-Shows-Voter-Fraud-Virtually-Non-Existent-Red-States-Eliminating-Legal-Voters … but none of this will mean anything if you’re the person who posted that petition and thinks there was a massive… Read more »

Ben
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I appreciate the link. Besides that petition, I’ve heard a few mentions of the voter fraud issue from my friends on Facebook. But I didn’t really feel like doing that research myself. In a somewhat related issue, the article I linked to that reported the 27,500 dead people on the voter rolls in North Carolina also mentioned that some unspecified number of those dead people died in between the time they sent their mail-in vote and the time the election results were counted. Should those votes be counted? Interesting question.

Jared
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Jared

Should the votes be counted just because the voter died? Surely you jest! To me, that’s like asking if they should delete the vote of someone who gets hit by a car while they cross the street after they leave the polls. I get that they’re dead now, but when they cast their vote, they were alive and every bit a citizen as someone who manages to live to the end of election day. I realize that they won’t be personally affected by the governing decisions of whoever they voted for, but it could still affect anyone they leave behind… Read more »

Missy
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Missy

I think if they were alive to vote within the specified voting time period, their vote should count!

Jeff
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Jeff

Great points Ben. I know a lady who’s husband sent in his vote this year and died a few days later. She claims his vote wasn’t going to be counted, but how can they really know? Do they go digging through the obits while they count the votes?

Nameless
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Nameless

“if this person wants to claim that there is a NATIONAL scheme to sway the election in Obama’s favor (apparently this involves the bogus/fraudulent vote of 3,377,384 people, which is the difference of the last popular vote count I saw)…” Actually no. All it takes to sway the election in Obama’s favor is to get enough fraudulent votes to swing Florida, Ohio and Virginia. Obama won these three by margins of about 100,000 votes in each case. It is the official position on the left that we don’t need voter ID laws because the fraudulent vote is nonexistent anyway, and… Read more »

Ben
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Keep the comments coming! Just keep it civil.

J Linde
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J Linde

In a lot of places (including Nevada, where I just moved) there were ‘Get Out the Vote’ types on college campuses, hanging around grocery stores, at large shopping centers. They’ll register you right there on the sidewalk, clipboard in hand, and never ask for ID. That’s how I registered here, that’s how I registered in Missouri in college, and that’s how lots of folks do it. You might not have ID, but you go to the grocery store, right? I didn’t even have my Nevada driver’s license yet when I registered.

Jared
Guest
Jared

“Arguing on the internet is always a phenomenal waste of time.”

Ben
Guest

I agree. Arguing is best done in person, so you can physically see the anger boiling up from deep inside.

Nevertheless, people are free to post here as they will, as long as it doesn’t cross my rudeness threshold. Or my stupidity threshold. Or my bad grammar threshold. I think that’s all…

Ing
Guest

Arguing on the internet certainly is a waste of time, but once you realize it’s completely useless, you can really start to have fun with it. :) Never argue with people too stupid to know when they’ve lost. That’s my motto. The people that create, circulate, and believe “petitions” like this are never going to believe that it’s not evidence of some massive conspiracy. J Linde has a good point. As much as I hate the thought of yet another government regulation, voter ID rules would be a good thing. It’d help discourage fraud, yield cleaner results all around, and… Read more »

Ben
Guest

I also used those two sites extensively during the election. Their analyses of the presidential debates are essential to understanding how much of what the candidates say is true. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any info on this petition. Snopes didn’t either. I guess they can only do so much to battle the rampant untruths out there. I’m glad the Daily Kos was conscientious enough to cite sources, at least.