RE: What a weird situation

Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

From: Zhang, Yangkun (Yangkun.Zhang@FMR.COM)
Date: Tue Nov 14 2000 - 06:42:32 PST

> I believe this is a court-challengeable proposition. Anybody have
> any thoughts on the matter?

November 13, 2000

Recount 'Em All, or None at All

By Ed Glaeser. Mr. Glaeser is a professor of economics at Harvard University
and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

There is a well-known trick among statistical economists for biasing your
data while looking honest. First, figure out which data points don't agree
with your theory. Then zealously clean up the offending data points while
leaving the other data alone. The key to maintaining academic dignity is to
ensure that you do nothing to the data other than eliminate errors.

But while this approach may seem to improve accuracy, it actually leads to
biased results. If you only clean the offending data points, then you will
disproportionately keep erroneous data that agrees with your prior views.
This leads many scholars to believe that data that is partially cleaned at
the discretion of a researcher is worse than bad data.

This lesson from the ivory tower has a clear implication for the current
mess in Florida. Hand counting ballots in only a few, carefully chosen
counties is a sure way to bias the results. Even if hand counting is more
accurate than machine counting, there is a clear bias introduced because Al
Gore chose which counties to hand count. Mr. Gore has selected the state and
counties where recounting has the best chance of helping him.

This is exactly the same as cleaning other data selectively. Naturally, if
this opportunity for selective recounting becomes the norm, the floodgates
will open and any candidate who loses a close election would be foolish not
to demand a recount.

The immediate implication of this is clear. If there is to be recounting by
hand, it cannot be selective. There needs to be total hand counting, not
just within Florida, but across the U.S. in any state that was close. One
candidate cannot be allowed just to choose where he wants the data cleaned.
If this is prohibitively expensive, or time consuming, then it is better to
leave the process unchanged than to introduce the selective recounting bias.

More generally, one of the principal lessons of macroeconomics is that rules
generally work better than discretion. This is as true in elections as any
place else. Giving candidates influence over how election results are
processed does not help democracy to accurately reflect the will of the
people. Judicial discretion is not much better, as judges will be responding
to cases selectively filed by candidates. Furthermore, judges determining
elections will exalt the judiciary to a king-making role it should not have.

While it certainly may be appropriate to ban butterfly ballots for all of
eternity, and while reform of balloting procedures seems like a must, it is
also clearly wrong to selectively recount certain areas.


URL for this Article:

---------------------------------------------------------------------------- ----

Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Nov 17 2000 - 16:38:39 PST