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The Mystery Of Pattie Precinct

By Greg L | 4 November 2009 | Virginia Politics, Prince William County | 8 Comments

When last night’s election returns started rolling in I and everyone else were stunned by a substantial early lead reported for Jody Wagner, where she was leading Bill Bolling by about 75%-25% while returns showed Bob McDonnell leading Creigh Deeds 60%-40%. As the evening wore on, Wagner’s lead slowly disappeared and eventually the returns from Prince William County showed Bolling in the lead. An alert reader, watching lat night’s live stream noted the source of the unusual data being the Pattie precinct, and I figured that at some point today a correction would be made to the unofficial returns. Despite several dozen corrections to the results that have been made during the course of last night and today, a single precinct in Prince William County still shows a 582 votes for Bill Bolling, and a whopping 4,022 votes for Jody Wagner. I’m beginning to wonder whether SBE will ever notice these bizarre numbers and correct them.

Pattie precinct recorded 613 votes for Bob McDonnell and 372 for Creigh Deeds, and582 votes for Ken Cuccinelli and 397 for Steve Shannon. Excluding write-ins, that makes 985 votes cast for candidates for Governor, and 979 votes case for Attorney General. The 52nd District race here had a total of 979 votes cast as well. So how does one not miss that 4,604 votes being cast in the Lieutenant Governor race as being a huge red flag here? The number of votes cast might even exceed the number of active voters for this precinct. Yet right now, there’s no correction to these numbers.

Is it an order of magnitude off and someone simply typed an additional “2″ at the end of the result? That would seem to fit the pattern. A 582-402 race would result in 984 votes cast, right in-between the McDonnell and Cuccinelli numbers and consistent with the percentage that Bolling got elsewhere in the county. I’m pretty sure that Bolling got the 59% of the vote this hypothetical number suggests, rather than the 12.63% the still-unofficial data reports.

The corrections reported in the results so far amount to a vote or two here and a vote or two there, which seem to result from simply going through all the data and correcting transcription errors. Nowhere is there evidence that the results are systematically compared against the number of registered voters or the data from other races within a precinct to detect anomalies such as this one. If SBE cannot immediately detect massively bad numbers like this, they’re doing candidates and the public a huge disservice.

This could all be avoided by running elections data through some pretty basic statistical models that wouldn’t correct data, but inform State Board of Elections personnel that something doesn’t make sense and could use a quick check. An anomaly like this, which is so incredibly outside the norm for the precinct historically, the surrounding precincts, and the overall result would absolutely get caught within less than a second of the results being entered, checked, and doubtless corrected within minutes. Instead, not only was this ridiculous number posted, but it remains in the results as this post is being written. Whether it gets corrected at all remains uncertain.

When obviously bad data is included in election returns, it undermines voter confidence in the elections process in Virginia. In order to retain the trust of the people of Virginia, SBE better join at least the 20th Century and start using the same statistical model-based validation systems that have been ensuring accuracy in financial accounting systems for the past fifty years. There’s no reason not to check for obvious (and potentially huge) errors like this, and it would benefit the elections process tremendously.

Otherwise, our election results are going to frequently have little anomalies in them that are more representative of elections in Zimbabwe than elections in America.

UPDATE: Snapped Shot has a screenshot of the results as they still appear at 9:30PM, more than 24 hours after the polls closed, which I should have thought of including but didn’t think to do. Since he was good enough to grab a shot, here it is:

Yeah, this passes the smell test, huh?

UPDATE:  It took two days, but the results have been corrected.  As I expected, the actual vote total in Pattie precinct for Wagner was 402 votes, giving Bolling a 59-41% victory in this precinct.  Here are all the corrections in this race in Prince William County:

Lieutenant Governor - PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY

District Precinct Candidate Original Value Changed Value Reason Comment Date
Congressional 11 305 - PATTIE Jody M. Wagner 4022 402 Data entry error in central office 11/5/2009 12:24:08 PM
Congressional 11 607 - KERRYDALE Jody M. Wagner 420 421 Data entry error in central office 11/5/2009 12:22:54 PM
Congressional 11 607 - KERRYDALE William T. “Bill” Bolling 305 306 Data entry error in central office 11/5/2009 12:22:54 PM
Congressional 01 706 - RIPPON Jody M. Wagner 717 719 Tabulation error in the precinct 11/5/2009 9:40:22 AM
Congressional 11 601 - DALE Jody M. Wagner 301 302 Tabulation error in the precinct 11/5/2009 9:37:48 AM

I still have to wonder how a “data entry error in central office” of this magnitude wasn’t caught immediately.

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  1. anon said on 4 Nov 2009 at 4:32 pm:
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    Don’t think for a minute that ACORN’s tentacles don’t reach into Virginia.

    As they have proven, they are anything but sophisticated, but they make up for that with gall.

    Don’t look for the SBE to do squat. They will figure that the R’s won - so why bother. I am sure that they are none to happy with the results as they are. Remember, these are the folks who brought us motor voter.

    Next election, it will be worse and more widespread.

    Count on it.

  2. NotTimothyGeithner said on 4 Nov 2009 at 5:16 pm:
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    The totals that the SBE puts up aren’t official and since everyone has voted already its not going to sway a vote. Its not much of a mystery. They put that up for us, but the only numbers that matter are their official ones. I’d be more concerned with them watching those numbers.

  3. Greg L said on 4 Nov 2009 at 6:05 pm:
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    Anderson won by about 200 votes last night. Had that been Anderson being behind by about 200 votes instead of ahead, I’m pretty sure he would have given a concession rather than go through a recount.

    He’s not the only candidate who would probably act like that.

    In this case, SBE made what looks like a 3,820 vote error in one precinct, and still hasn’t noticed it. If that kind of huge mistake eludes them, will these errors continue to not be noticed, and what about the errors that aren’t quite so glaring? Do they ever get corrected in the official results?

    And what do we say to candidates who are given bad information about election returns and then make decisions on that bad information that they have to then go back and reverse?

    It’s not that hard to prevent obvious mistakes, and SBE owes it to the candidates and the public to take reasonable steps to prevent them.

  4. Rick Sincere said on 4 Nov 2009 at 9:52 pm:
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    Your post indicates a total incomprehension of the election and canvass process.

    “SBE” does not post election results. All results are posted by local election officials — Electoral Boards and General Registrars — to the SBE web site. The SBE has no source of information about election returns other than the local officials.

    The canvass begins on election night and continues on Wednesday morning. Most jurisdictions are able to finish the process within a day, but sometimes it takes longer. We were able to finish the canvass in Charlottesville today in about 6 hours, but last year — 2008 — we took over two days to complete the canvass. And Charlottesville only has 9 precincts, including Central Absentee Precinct. Imagine how much time and effort has to go into the canvass for large-population localities like Prince William, Fairfax, or Virginia Beach.

    The canvass process is meticulous and tedious. It involves going through the paperwork of each precinct, one at a time, checking numbers and assuring that all votes have been counted.

    EVERY ELECTION results in some mistakes being reported on election night. The errors might be small or they might be large. THIS IS WHY THE RESULTS ARE CALLED “UNOFFICIAL.” Nothing is “official” until the State Board of Elections certifies the winners about three weeks after the election.

    Statements of Results are compiled by election officials after 7:00 p.m. on a day that they have been working since 5:00 a.m. or earlier. Bad penmanship, a “4″ read as a “9″, failing to transfer numbers from one piece of paper to another, writing “402″ as “4402,” misunderstanding “nine” as “five” over a telephone in a noisy room — any of these may cause inaccurate reports on election night that might not be corrected for hours or days. None of these errors are excusable if they are allowed to stand, but that is why we have a canvass: to correct errors and assure accuracy.

    Electoral Boards and their staffs try to complete the canvass as efficiently and swiftly as possible, but it cannot be instantaneous.

    The canvass is an open, public meeting. Any citizen can observe it. Try it next time and you might not be so ignorantly critical. The Democratic and Republican party officials who have observed Charlottesville canvasses always leave with a sense of enlightenment (”I never knew how much you had to do after election day”) and appreciation. I suspect the same is true in other localities.

  5. James Young said on 4 Nov 2009 at 10:01 pm:
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    This was almost certainly corrected as the County Board of Elections met today. I was there, but as I was tasked with monitoring a different race (as almost every other observer was, too), I didn’t pay attention to Pattie.

    By the way, as a result of the count, Anderson’s margin increased by at least 71 votes. The report last night was “229,” but the written report from the voting machines was “299,” probably resulting from a transcription error. I strongly suspect that the same explains the discrepancy in Pattie. There probably aren’t 4,022 registered voters in that precinct, and almost certainly not that many voters yesterday.

  6. Greg L said on 4 Nov 2009 at 11:38 pm:
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    The bad data is still there, so if it has been corrected, the info from SBE hasn’t been updated. There have been no corrections noted on the SBE website in this race since about 3:30PM today.

    Not good to have major errors like this persist for so long, if they’ve been addressed. Getting these fixed and the results updated quickly is important to maintaining voter confidence in the results.

  7. Gurduloo said on 5 Nov 2009 at 9:18 am:
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    As a last resort, the printout from each voting machine is available for review by citizens at the courthouse. You can go there an tabulate the results yourself if you think there’s an error. But first, I would contact your local Electoral Board and tell them about it. And complain that the precinct chief should have caught this error before it was called in.

  8. Joan said on 5 Nov 2009 at 1:21 pm:
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    305 - PATTIE
    (District 11)

    Last Reported: Nov 5 2009 12:24PM EST

    William T. “Bill” Bolling 582 59.08%

    Jody M. Wagner 402 40.81%

    Write In 1 0.10%

    Enough said.

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