November 19, 2004 | 9:40 a.m. ET

All I know is what I don't read in the papers (Keith Olbermann)

SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION— I’m beginning to think like Jim Bunning now.

So far in this post-election trip through Alice’s looking glass we’ve had:

—a University of Pennsylvania professor defending the accuracy of exit polling in order damn the accuracy of vote counting;

—a joint CalTech/MIT study defending the accuracy of exit polling in order to confirm the accuracy of vote counting;

—a series of lesser academic works assailing the validity of the Penn and CalTech/MIT assessments;

—and now, a UC Berkeley Research Team report that concludes President Bush may have received up to 260,000 more votes in fifteen Florida counties than he should have, all courtesy the one-armed bandits better known as touch-screen voting systems.

And, save, for one "New York Times"reference to the CalTech/MIT study "disproving" the idea that the exit poll results were so wacky that they required thoroughly botched election nights in several states, the closest any of these research efforts have gotten to the mainstream media have been " Wired News" and " Countdown."

I still hesitate to endorse the ‘media lock-down’ theory extolled so widely on the net. I've expended a lot of space on the facts of political media passivity and exhaustion, and now I’ll add one factor to explain the collective shrugged shoulder: reading this stuff is hard. It’s hard work.

There are, as we know, lies, damn lies, and statistics. But there is one level of hell lower still— scholarly statistical studies. I have made four passes at “The Effect of Electronic Voting Machines on Change in Support for Bush in the 2004 Florida Elections,” and the thing has still got me pinned to the floor.

Most of the paper is so academically dense that it seems to have been written not just in another language, but in some form of code. There is one table captioned “OLS Regression with Robust Standard Errors.” Another is titled “OLS regressions with frequency weights for county size.” Only the summary produced by Professor Michael Hout and the Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Time is intelligible.

Of course, I’m reminded suddenly of the old cartoon, with the guy saying “I don’t understand women,” and the second guy saying, “So? Do you understand electricity?”

In his news conference yesterday at Berkeley (who attended? Who phoned in to the conference call? Why didn’t they try?) Professor Hout analogized the report to a “beeping smoke alarm.” It doesn’t say how bad the fire it is, it doesn’t accuse anybody of arson, it just says somebody ought to have an extinguisher handy.

Without attempting to crack the methodology, it’s clear the researchers claim they’ve compensated for all the bugaboos that hampered the usefulness of previous studies of the county voting results in Florida. They’ve weighted the thing to allow for an individual county’s voting record in both the 2000 and 1996 elections (throwing out the ‘Dixiecrat’ effect), to wash out issues like the varying Hispanic populations, median income, voter turnout change, and the different numbers of people voting in each county.

And they say that when you calculate all that, you are forced to conclude that compared to the Florida counties that used paper ballots, the ones that used electronic voting machines were much more likely to show “excessive votes” for Mr. Bush, and that the statistical odds of this happening organically are less than one in 1,000.

They also say that these “excessives” occurred most prominently in counties where Senator Kerry beat the President most handily. In the Democratic bastion of Broward, where Kerry won by roughly 105,000, they suggest the touch-screens “gave” the President 72,000 more votes than statistical consistency should have allowed. In Miami-Dade (Kerry by 55,000) they saw 19,300 more votes for Bush than expected. In Palm Beach (Kerry by 115,000) they claim Bush got 50,000 more votes than possible.

Hout and his research team consistently insisted they were not alleging that voting was rigged, nor even that what they’ve found actually affected the direction of Florida’s 27 Electoral Votes. They point out that in a worst-case scenario, they see 260,000 “excessives” - and Bush took the state by 350,000 votes. But they insist that based on Florida’s voting patterns in 1996 and 2000, the margin cannot be explained by successful get-out-the-vote campaigns, or income variables, or anything but something rotten in the touch screens.

It’s deep-woods mathematics, and it cries out for people who speak the language and can refute or confirm its value. Kim Zetter, who did an excellent work-up for "Wired News,"got the responses you’d expect from both sides. She quotes Susan Van Houten of Palm Beach’s Coalition for Election Reform as saying “I’ve believed the same thing for a while, that the numbers are screwy, and it looks like they proved it.” She quotes Jill Friedman-Wilson of the touch-screen manufacturer Election Systems & Software (their machines were in use in Broward and Miami-Dade) as responding “If you consider real-world experience, we know that ES&S’ touch-screen voting system has been proven in thousands of elections throughout the country.”

What’s possibly of more interest to us poor laymen is what isn’t in the Berkeley report.

As I mentioned previously, they don’t claim to know how this happened. But more importantly, they say that they ran a similar examination on the voting patterns in Ohio, comparing its paper ballot and electronic results, and found absolutely nothing to suggest either candidate got any “bump” that couldn’t otherwise be explained by past voting patterns, income, turnout, or any other commonplace factor.

In other words: No e-voting machines spontaneously combusting in Ohio.

“For the sake of all future elections involving electronic voting,” Professor Hout concluded, “someone must investigate and explain the statistical anomalies in Florida. We’re calling on voting officials in Florida to take action.”

Anybody want to belly up to this bar?

Thougths?  E-mail me at

November 18, 2004 | 9:30 a.m. ET

Scholars on the votes, Ohio undervotes (Keith Olbermann)

SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION— We return to Academic Dueling In Our Time, already in progress.

A UC Berkeley sociology professor, director of his school’s Survey Research Center, is scheduled to conduct a news conference at 1 p.m. ET today at which his “research team” will report that “irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have awarded 130,000-260,000 or more excess votes” to President Bush in Florida.

The advance word of the news conference gives little detail, but suggests Professor Michael Hout might be treading out onto thin ice. His study is said to show “an unexplained discrepancy between votes for President Bush in counties where electronic machines were used versus counties using traditional voting methods.”

The Berkeley group may have new material, but if not, it could be pinioned by the fact that some of the apparent variations between optical scanning and other voting methods in Florida, might also be explained by— or, even better explained by— historical voting patterns in Florida’s Dixiecrat counties of the north, and the Panhandle.

Regardless, this is now shaping up as the BCS of presidential election analysis. A joint report out of the CalTech and MIT voting project— suggesting that the much-decried exit polling of election night really wasn’t outside the margin of error at all when analyzed on a state-by-state basis— had already been countered by a Penn professor’s report using the exit polling for Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Now it’s not just CalTech and MIT versus Penn— but also UC Berkeley versus CalTech and MIT.

Stay tuned for the halftime show.

And stay tuned for the latest disaster from Ohio.

For 40 years, the Dayton Daily News reports this morning, Shirley Wightman has worked at polling places on election days. Two weeks ago, she says, turnout was high - 611 voters - and she and her colleagues paid careful attention to their punch-card, chad-filled, voting stations in Washington Township, Ohio.

“We checked the machines periodically,” Ms. Wightman told the paper, “and I could see nothing wrong with them.”

Yet when the votes were tallied, 168 of the 611 voters had made no choice for president. Unless these were the famed undecideds we heard so much about in the closing weeks of the campaigns, something went terribly wrong. 27 and a half percent of the voters in that “Washington X” precinct in Montgomery County officially didn’t have a presidential preference.

This was the high point of the Daily News’ investigative analysis of the still-unofficial voting results in its county— or more properly, perhaps, the low point. The paper discovered that of the 284, 650 votes in Montgomery, a total of 5,693 registered no valid vote for president. And the percentages were significantly higher in the 231 precincts that wound up voting for Kerry (2.8%) than did the 354 that wound up voting for Bush (1.6%).

Besides Washington X, a second County precinct exceeded 27% ‘undercount,’ as the election professionals, such as they are, call it. Washington X, Kettering 3-A, and five of the other top ten ‘undercount’ precincts by percentage wound up supporting Bush.

Since, as the papers note, political scientists suggested that the poor and the lesser-educated are presumed to have more trouble with punch card voting, there are several logical disconnects here. Given the outcomes in those two precincts, Washington X and Kettering 3-A, were those mostly Bush voters who managed to blank out more than a quarter of their own ballots, or did the precincts wind up voting for Bush because more than a quarter of the ballots had no valid presidential vote?

What happened in the voting precincts in Moraine, Ohio? 2,557 votes were cast at seven sites there. The President won the city by 2%. The number of ballots without a valid presidential vote was 5.6%.

What do the state undercounts in Ohio look like? Did they reduce Bush’s margin of victory? Did they eliminate votes for Kerry? What the hell happened?

The least likely explanations are that these people couldn’t make up their minds, or screwed up only the presidential part of their ballots.

“It is very difficult to believe that a quarter of the people would not vote for president, especially in a year like this,” University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato— an old friend of Countdown— told the Daily News. “If I were the election officers in those areas I would be doing some very extensive checks of those machines.”

As the Ohio recount nears, the number of hotspots continues to multiply. You are aware of the remarkable late night voting lines throughout the state, and the mysterious Glitch of Youngstown which initially registered negative 25,000,000 votes. There is the Gahanna machine which gave one presidential candidate 4,000 extra votes in a community of 600. And the farcical “walling off” of the vote counting in Warren County, because the county head of security was told face-to-face of an FBI terrorism warning there - except the FBI says it didn’t issue any terrorism warnings there.

The Associated Press today carries a report of 2,600 ballots in nine precincts around Sandusky, Ohio that were counted twice— as that paper puts it— “likely because of worker error.” The Clyde precinct showed a voter turnout of 131%, to the dismay of the head of the elections board, Barb Tuckerman.

Ms. Tuckerman, in one of the great quotes of the election, told the News-Messenger of Fremont, Ohio: “I knew there was something amiss.”

Tell me about it, Barb.

What do you think?  E-mail me at

November 16, 2004 | 8:30 p.m. ET

Oh Brother,  Ohio, and O'Reilly (Keith Olbermann)

SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION— Keep your aluminum foil hats at the ready.

The purported linking of failed Florida congressional candidate Jeff Fisher and Ralph Nader, trumpeted on Fisher’s website, is news to Nader’s spokesman Kevin Zeese.

That’s particularly troublesome for Mr. Fisher because it is to Zeese that the connection is attributed:

“Kevin Zeese,” the Fisher site reads, “officially announced that Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader will be consulting with Jeff Fisher and Jan Schneider regarding the investigation of voter fraud and a statewide recount for the state of Florida.”

When the nose-to-the-grindstone Countdown staff (as opposed to me, vacation boy) contacted Zeese, he said it was the first he’d heard of any ‘official announcement.’ Zeese acknowledges he’d spoken to Fisher, and surmises, correctly I think, that Fisher (he lost in the Florida 16th) and Schneider (she lost in the 13th, to Katherine Harris) were trying to increase their credibility by tying their efforts to the Nader campaign. Given the pounding Nader’s gotten for four years, Zeese laughed out loud at the irony.

Fisher has been cited in many places as claiming he has firm evidence of deliberate computer-hacking in the Florida vote, and was awaiting FBI agents with whom he was to share it. Not to dismiss him or his claims, but the show’s contact with him was not encouraging. He spoke vaguely of sources and whispered a lot.

Hell, ‘Deep Throat’ from Watergate whispered a lot.

Then again, so does the guy who wanders around Columbus Circle claiming the government caused the Red Sox to win the World Series.

We’ll reserve judgment on Mr. Fisher’s claims— and keep them out of this space until and unless they have stronger legs. But the “consulting” role with Nader isn’t the case, and bodes ill for Fisher’s other assertions.

Meanwhile in Ohio, it’s not exactly the lead story on Nightly News, but the verifying of the provisional ballots has gotten the attention of the most influential, and underrated, news source in the country— the Associated Press. It is from this wire service that most smaller newspapers and nearly all local and national radio and television news departments glean their national material (and from which, though they’d never admit it, most newspaper columnists, draw most of their data).

The AP reports that by yesterday, 11 of Ohio’s 88 counties had completed vetting the provisionals and that ten of the districts have accepted the validity of more than 90 percent of them. One— Belmont County (along the West Virginia border)— has tossed 42%, and nearing the halfway mark in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), the election board there has accepted about two-thirds.

And this afternoon, the AP’s TV and radio columnist Frazier Moore wrote a withering satire of the post-election television political landscape, so much in the manner of Jonathan Swift that it has been forwarded to me by conservatives claiming it “proves” there’s no reason to cover any voting issues. Generally speaking, mainstream silence seems to be passing: Sunday, the Hartford Courant printed an op-ed from the Associate Dean of the Yale Law School, Ian Solomon - one of those Democratic lawyers dispatched to Florida to ‘watch’ the election - who suggested the monitors had been too busy verifying the paper ballots to pay attention to the prospect of computerized irregularities (thus, Dean Solomon admitted, “I might have been an unwitting accessory to fraud.”)

The Boston Globe plans a piece on the silence— which still seems more a case of media passivity than conspiracy—in the next few days. Even the Washington Times addressed it yesterday (albeit with the headline “Anti-Bush Internet Site Angles For Election Probe”) by focusing on’s “Investigate the Vote” campaign. Jerrold Nadler of New York, one of six Democratic congressmen who demanded an investigation by the General Accountability Office in the days after the election, says now he anticipates a response from the GAO by the end of this week, and that could stir the pot a little further.

We may even have seen something of a reaction to this story on Fox News. There, our old loofah-wielding friend Bill O’Reilly is at it again, wandering further and further into semi-lucidity and self-contradiction. As reported by Brian Stelter over at TVNewser O’Reilly managed to put himself at direct odds with his own boss, Roger Ailes.

“The Pew Research Center is out with which media was most trusted during the presidential campaign,” O’Reilly stated Monday night. “On the TV side, Fox News wins big… Dead last was MSNBC, which was six percent of Americans trusting them. Obviously they have major problems over there.”

As usual when dealing with the O’Reilly Fact-or-Fiction, he leaves himself so open to fact-checking on so many fronts, that it’s difficult to decide where to thrust the first sword.

Let’s start with the Pew poll. Firstly, it had nothing to do with which media was “most trusted” — it only asked where people got most of their news on the election. And using Fox’s own criteria— they’re right and everybody else ranges from liberal to treasonous— they were cited as the respondents’ primary source by 21%, compared to the NBC/MSNBC/CNBC combination (also 21%), and compared to the combined three broadcast network news departments (29%). The Internet was also cited as a primary source by 21%, suggesting respondents were permitted to give more than one answer. This not only isn’t “Fox News wins big;” using some of the same massaging of numbers O’Reilly is fond of, it’s not even ‘Fox News wins at all.’

Sorry about that “massaging” reference to O’Reilly in there. Poor choice of words.

Most intriguingly, O’Reilly’s employer, Mr. Ailes, recently dismissed the company that did the survey O’Reilly trumpeted so loudly. In its recent piece on the network, "The New York Times" noted that Pew’s June survey reported that 41 percent of Fox News viewers identified themselves as Republicans, and 52 percent of them called themselves Conservatives.

Roger Ailes then told the paper that the Pew Research Center had produced “a totally fraudulent survey done by a bunch of liberals.”

So O’Reilly is reduced to relying on a polling company that his boss believes traffics in ‘totally fraudulent surveys,’ to altering the questions posed by that company to fit his own boasts, and to accepting those numbers he likes from that polling and ignoring the ones he doesn’t.

Sounds like somebody hasn’t had a good falafel in awhile.

Comments?  E-mail me at

November 15, 2004 | 2:50 p.m. ET

Glibs reach their recount dough count (Keith Olbermann)

SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION— A presidential vote recount in Ohio seems inevitable today with the announcement from Green Party candidate David Cobb that he and the Libertarians' Michael Badnarik have raised $150,000 in donations to meet filing fees and expenses.

That fund-raising goal was set last Thursday; on Cobb's website the two parties now say they're going to try to raise an additional $100,000 for "training, mobilizing, and per diem expenses" for those "thousands" who'll be involved in the statewide effort. They're also calling for volunteers from Ohio, and elsewhere, to be the Green/Lib observers in the county-by-county process, or house out-of-state volunteers.

November 14, 2004 | 3:05 p.m. ET

I swear: I'm on vacation (Keith Olbermann)

SECURE UNDISCLOSED LOCATION—Golly, I’ve never been the subject of a conspiracy theory before.

Yet, there it is, flying around the Internet under the byline of a Peter Coyote: that when I attempted to break the “lock-down” of coverage of the voting irregularities story in the media during Friday night’s edition of Countdown, I was fired, and left the studio in the middle of the program.

Um, no, actually.

I’m on vacation—  it’s been scheduled since August; I’ll be blogging in the interim; Countdown will continue to cover the story in my absence; I not only wasn’t fired for ‘mentioning’ the story - but we covered it five nights in a row; and, I’ll be back on television on the 22nd (earlier, if developments warrant).

But we can now trace how just a dollop of the truth can be subverted into an item available for purchase in the Tin Foil Hat District - and we have another reminder that what you read on the Web, no matter how much it might fit your beliefs, anxieties, or even other facts, might still resemble more a game of telephone than actual investigative reporting.

I’m reminded suddenly of the lyric from The Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime”: “Heard about Houston? Heard about Detroit? Heard about Pittsburgh, PA?”

What happened was this. We end nearly every Friday show with a news quiz. Each week my colleague Monica Novotny asks me a series of questions sent in by viewers. If I get half or more correct, I win a “prize” - if not, I suffer a “punishment.” This edition’s prize was a week’s vacation. I feigned surprise, asked when it began, was told it began whenever I wanted, and promptly got up and literally ran off the set.

Two insider facts:

a) We planned that gag to tamp down any surprise or speculation if people tuned in Monday and didn’t see me (I assumed reactions would divide into three groups: ones from the left which assumed I’d been “silenced,” ones from the right which assumed I’d been “suspended,” and, the largest group by far, ones who couldn’t care less).

b) The rest of the show is live, but, for reasons of technical complexity, we always pre-tape the quiz in advance. The whole running-off-the-set gag was recorded at 7:45. Temporally speaking, my “mid-show firing” occurred before the newscast itself.

Thanks, though, to all who e-mailed fearing a reply “Olbermann? No Olbermann ever worked here.” The e-mail volume since the first blog last week, incidentally, is up to 27,000 as of 2 PM ET Sunday, and it continues to run at about 22:1 in favor, with the “ones” boiling down to messages like “get over it” and the cordial greeting from a woman in late middle age: “Shut the F up.” We do learn from this correspondence that not a lot of people like Ann Coulter, and that the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is so infrequently read that the oxygen over there is being utterly wasted.

There is another fallacy in the Olbermann’s Been Disappeared story, and it’s the very idea that there is a “media lock-down” of coverage. Nobody can argue that the MSM has been vigorous here -  nor, in television’s case, anything but largely dismissive - but you can ring that up much more to hauteur than to censorship.

On Friday, David Shuster, who has already done some excellent research at Hardblogger , did a piece on the mess for Hardball, and Chris followed up with a discussion with Joe Trippi and Susan Molinari. There was a cogent, reasoned, unexcited piece about the mechanics of possible tampering and/or machine failure on CNN’s “Next” yesterday, and Saturday alone there were serious news pieces in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Los Angeles Times, Salt Lake Tribune, and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. NPR did a segment of its “On The Media” on the topic (with said blogger as the guest).

And today the New York Times continues its series of “Making Vote Counts” editorials with a pretty solid stance on the necessity of journalistic and governmental proof that the elections weren’t tampered with, nor the victims of Speak & Spell toys retro-fitted as electronic voting units. By way of contrast, though, the Houston Chronicle has an editorial so puerile that it may be the most naïve thing I’ve ever read that was actually written by a grown-up.

I suspect the coverage is going to go through the roof as the news spreads that Nader has gotten his recount in New Hampshire, and that the Greens and Libertarians are actually going to get their Ohio recount. When reporters discover what Jonathan Turley pointed out to us on Tuesday’s show, namely that 70% of Ohio’s votes were done with punch cards and as Florida proved in 2000, in court, a lot of those punch cards— as Jon put it— “turn over,” I suspect there will be long-form television on the process. As an aside: as of earlier today, the Green/Libs— should we just go ahead and call them the Glibs?— were at $118,000 towards their Ohio war-chest goal of $150,000. I’ve gotten a peck of e-mails about why neither party’s Website has details, and it turns out the site you want on this is VoteCobb.Org.

All that having been said, the most remarkable read of the day is probably the item buried on page A5 of The Washington Post. (Registration required but free). There, Charles Babington and Brian Faler take the wind out of the primary post-election grist for the yak-fests of radio and television: the overwhelming relevance of “Moral Values” to 2004’s presidential voters.

You will recall that the Exit Polling on November 2nd ranked the most important issues as follows:

  1. Moral Values, 22%
  2. Economy and Jobs, 20%
  3. Terrorism, 19%
  4. Iraq, 15%

The authors point out that those results came when pollsters offered voters a list of which issues factored most into their decision to vote. They note that last week, Pew Research went back and surveyed voters again, and took their temperatures in two ways— with a list (as was offered on election day), and without one (in other words, voters had to remember their issues; it ceased to be multiple choice). Those working off the checklist responded similarly to the election day exit pollees:

  1. Moral Values, 27%
  2. Iraq, 22%
  3. Economy and Jobs, 21%
  4. Terrorism, 14%

But the free-form Pew survey produced entirely different data. Given nothing to work with, simply asked to name the deciding factor in their vote, “moral values” shrunk back to human size:

  1. Other, 31%
  2. Iraq, 25%
  3. Moral Values, 14%
  4. Economy and Jobs, 12%
  5. Terrorism, 9%

Babington and Faler point out that “other” included such gems as not liking Bush, not liking Kerry, honesty, and presumably “I was following instructions from Jon Stewart.”

Oh and by the way: how come the “Kerry’s winning” part of the election night exit polling is presumed to have been wrong, or tampered with, but the “Moral Values” part of the same polling is graded flawless, and marks the dawn of a new American century?

On Vaco but still reading your e-mails.  Write to me at

November 12, 2004 | 5:29 p.m. ET

Rolled up papers at fifty places (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS— You know it's bad when the two sides start throwing professors at one another.

Two conflicting scholarly studies on the variance between the national exit polling and the presidential election results, are flying across the Internet, eating up your e-mail storage capacity.

One, from the University of Pennsylvania, reminds us that exit polls are used as 'audits' on the elections in places like Germany and Mexico, and suggests the actual statistical odds that the exit polling was that wrong in the battleground states were 250,000,000 to one.

The other, from a voting project managed by CalTech and MIT, says that while the incorrectness of national exit polling can't be explained by the proverbial 'margin of error,' on a state-by-state basis, it actually was within that margin.

Craig Crawford joins us tonight to try to make political sense of the theory-laden scholarly research.

November 11, 2004 | 12:08 a.m. ET

Recounts and retractions (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK— John Kerry or no John Kerry, there could still be recounts in Ohio and New Hampshire— courtesy of the two candidates who got far more grief than votes during the presidential campaign.

David Cobb of the Green Party told a California radio station late yesterday afternoon that he is “quite likely to be demanding a recount in Ohio,” with a final decision to be reached and announced during the day

The New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General, meanwhile, told us at Countdown that negotiations are ongoing with Ralph Nader, who at a news conference yesterday not only demanded a recount in a minimum of four districts, but also added another bizarre touch to the proceedings by launching into a brief but surprisingly high-quality Richard Nixon impression.

The central issue in both potential recounts appears to be money. Cobb, whose presence on the ballot in all 50 states is probably coming to your attention only as you read this, said in an interview with the Pacifica station in Los Angeles, KPFK, that a recount would cost the Greens around $110,000, on a basis of approximately $10 per precinct. As you’d probably guess, Mr. Cobb’s doesn’t have the money lying around— but as a presidential candidate, he does have the right. Whether or not he can raise the cash is the operative question.

In New Hampshire, Assistant Attorney General Bud Fitch indicated that reports that Nader forfeited his right to request a recount there because he didn’t get a $2,000 filing fee to them before last Friday’s deadline were erroneous. However, Fitch did raise the bar on Nader, saying that he would have to provide a written guarantee that he would cover all costs relating to a recount, and that the state would probably demand a deposit, or the establishment of an escrow account. Complicating matters still further is Fitch’s admission that New Hampshire really can’t give a good estimate on the final costs.

It’s been twenty years since they’ve had a recount there and Fitch said costs in today’s dollars could be $30,000, $50,000, or even $80,000— although he guesses that the middle figure is the “top end” of what they’re looking at. New Hampshire is a recount-friendly state. Candidates are permitted to base a recount on the results of a particular community, and if they find their doubts resolved, they’re afforded the opportunity to cancel the rest of any statewide investigation.

That Cobb and Nader between them could lead to a resolution of both Democrats’ doubts about the legitimacy of the election, and Republicans’ resentment that there are doubts, contains a delicious irony. To call them “fringe” candidates is to demean their efforts, but they’re hardly favorites at any spot on the political spectrum. Nader, in particular, was trashed on a daily basis by the Democrats who feared he could negatively impact Kerry’s vote totals in swing states, as he clearly did to Al Gore in Florida in 2000. For the rancor, Nader has nobody to blame but himself. Not until late in the campaign did he successfully articulate his reasons for ‘running anyway’— namely, his conviction that breaking the two-party duopoly at lower echelons of government (particularly in the House) will take decades, and had to start at the top and work down.

In any event, if Nader and Cobb are at the edges, questions about Ohio moved back into the mainstream yesterday with another cogent article in The Cincinnati Enquirer. The rationale for the bizarre “lockdown” of the vote-counting venue in Warren County on election night suddenly broke down when it was contradicted by spokespersons from the FBI and Ohio’s primary homeland security official.

County Emergency Services Director Frank Young said last week that in a face-to-face meeting with an FBI agent, he was warned that Warren County, outside Cincinnati, faced a “terrorist threat.” County Commissioners President Pat South amplified, insisting to us at Countdown that her jurisdiction had received a series of memos from Homeland Security about the threat. “These memos were sent out statewide, not just to Warren County, and they included a lot of planning tools and resources to use for election day security.

“In a face to face meeting between the FBI and our director of Emergency Services,” Ms. South continued, “we were informed that on a scale from 1 to 10, the tri-state area of Southwest Ohio was ranked at a high 8 to a low 9 in terms of security risk. Warren County in particular, was rated at 10.”

But the Bureau says it issued no such warning.

“The FBI did not notify anyone in Warren County of any specific terrorist threat to Warren County before Election Day,” FBI spokesman Michael Brooks told Enquirer reporters Erica Solvig and Dan Horn.

Through a spokeswoman, Ohio Public Safety Director Ken Morckel told the newspaper that his office knew of no heightened terror warning for election night for Warren County or any other community in Greater Cincinnati.

Despite the contradiction from both security services, Ms. South again amplified, telling the Enquirer “It wasn’t international terrorism that we were in fear of; it was more domestic terrorism.”

So the media was kept two floors away from the vote counting at the Warren County Administration on election night on the basis of a “10” FBI terror threat that the FBI says was never issued.

Appearing with us on Countdown last night, Newsweek Senior Editor and columnist Jonathan Alter said the Warren ‘terror’ story was likely to grab the interest of the mainstream media: “I think you’ll see in the next few days, other reporters start to get their act together… you’ll hear more about this story in the days and weeks to come.”

It has all even come to the attention of the blithe agitator of the far right, Ann Coulter, who yesterday not only wrote of the election irregularities but, I’m proud to say, slimed and misquoted me. “In a major report on ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ last Monday,” my fellow Cornell alum writes, “Olbermann revealed that Bush’s win in Florida— and thus the election—was ‘attributable largely to largely Democratic districts suddenly switching sides and all voting for Mr. Bush at the same time’!”

It made for fascinating reading, because it made me think for a moment that I had been on television while in a coma. I couldn’t recall making such a broadly ridiculous remark— and it turns out I didn’t. Ms. Coulter, living up to her usual standards which many of us in the Alumni Association nightly pray she didn’t learn at the university, took a quote from a transcript of the November 8th show completely out of context, and entirely twisted its meaning.

The actual quote follows, with the key portion discarded by Ms. Coulter indicated in bold face:

“There (Florida), county totals in Tuesday’s election might be attributable largely to largely Democratic districts suddenly switching sides and all voting for Mr. Bush.”

Thus, a comment indicating how President Bush might have legitimately achieved majorities in some Florida counties, is transformed into a contention that the entire election turned on those county margins.

It’s a neat trick— the journalistic equivalent of the dog who learns to balance the biscuit on her nose and then flip it into her mouth on voice command.

Never tried it myself.

What do you think?  Email me at

Watch Keith on MSNBC TV Mondays to Fridays at 8 p.m. ET.

November 10, 2004 | 12:43 p.m. ET

Do-over (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK— With news this morning that the computerized balloting in North Carolina is so thoroughly messed up that all state-wide voting may be thrown out and a second election day scheduled, the story continues.

Tonight on 'Countdown,' we'll examine the N.C. mess (which would not include a second presidential vote), new fuzzy math in Nevada, allegations against the Democrats in Pennsylvania, Ralph Nader's news conference, and the other voting developments as they occur. A Stanford computer expert will address the vulnerability of the Optical Scanning system (and answer the question: which is easier to hack, electronic voting or exit polls?), and Newsweek's Jonathan Alter will join me to report on the reporting.

In the interim, for the North Carolina situation, we refer you to the Website of the excellent newspaper The Charlotte Observer (registration required).

November 10, 2004 | 9:15 a.m. ET

A bunch of cats across the parking lot (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK - The election vote mess is like one of those inflatable clown dolls. You knock it down with your hardest punch, it goes supine, and then bounces back up, in the meantime having moved an inch or two laterally.

The punch, of course, is the explanation that the 29 more-votes-than-voters precincts in greater Cleveland appear to have been caused by the addition of Absentee Ballots. The total difference between registered voters and votes (93,000) might be explained by that process, but it does little for one’s confidence in the whole result from Ohio.

The problem is, the rubber clown immediately bounces back with the report that officials in Youngstown managed to catch a slight glitch in their voting there: a total drawn from all the precincts that initially showed negative 25,000,000 million votes cast. It evokes a Monty Python sketch (“Mr. Kevin Phillips Bong - Sensible Party - 14,352. Mr. Harquin Fim Tim Lim Bim Bus Stop Fatang Fatang Ole Biscuit Barrel - Silly Party -- minus 25,000,0000).

No reason to worry about the integrity of the outcome in Ohio, is there?

The most pleasing thing of the last three days of blogs and newscasts is the reassurance from political professionals that all of you (all of us) who have wondered about what went on a week ago yesterday are not necessarily nuts. We might not necessarily be right, but there are some very stodgy, very by-the-book folks who think we’re damned right to be asking.

“Ohio was rife with allegations,” Jonathan Turley said on last night’s show. He’s not merely a superior expert on the Constitution, teaching it at George Washington University’s law school, but back during my first incarnation at MSNBC, as host of The Big Show and The White House In Crisis, Jonathan was a regular guest who regularly said that the investigation and impeachment of President Clinton was largely being done within the framework of the Constitution, and as bad as much of it looked, it was well within the margin of error.

Professor Turley is no partisan.

“There was litigation over pockets of voters,” he continued, on the subject of Ohio. “There was far more litigation than was indicated in the news programming.” He should know - he was on the clock and on the set working for CBS News throughout the campaign, and straight through to 6 AM in the hours after the vote. “So when you look at provisionals and absentees and then those pockets of votes, yeah, there probably is enough of a margin if things broke for Kerry that he could turn the state. Is it likely? No. But it is not impossible.”

Turley noted that a complaint now, without John Kerry’s sponsorship, is also a longshot: “Without the candidate, judges don’t work as hard” when it comes to overturning a set of returns, or a county’s report, or a state’s. But, he added, “remember that over 70% of Ohio’s votes were done with punch cards and we know that when you do a challenge to those, they tend to turn over.”

Paging Mr. Gore! Mr. Albert Gore, please report to the blog…

On the show last night there was also confirmation of something I speculated about here 24 hours ago. Craig Crawford, one of our MSNBC political contributors and also a columnist for Congressional Quarterly, admitted that the concession did trigger a kind of ‘we can all go home now!’ exultation in the media. “Since John Kerry conceded,” Craig said, “there wasn’t that great desire to run out to Columbus and try to figure this out. And the concession is the key because we’re often wimps in the media and we wait for other people to make charges, one political party or the other, and then we investigate.”

Bless Craig Crawford for saying that. If you haven’t seen him a lot on the tube you may be misled by his Aw-Shucks delivery and willingness to laugh at the subject matter. The political insight, shorn of the political pomposity that so many of the pros evince, is as refreshing as his laugh. Next to that admission that the Starting Line mentality pervades so much of political journalism, came the message about investigating, prodding, pushing, yelling, shouting, and blogging: “This is the time to do this. There’s still time before the results are certified. It doesn’t mean it’ll change the outcome - but it’s good.”

Craig also connected a few unpleasant dots. Kerry, he says, is “definitely interested in running in 2008,” and the image of Gore’s political death after the 2000 re-count may have played as much of a part in his hurried concession as any realistic appraisal of his chances in reversing the election by reversing Ohio.

He didn’t, however, endorse any conspiracy theories. “My experience with Election Supervisors is that they’re very independent, often real characters, hard people to actually organize into a conspiracy. I think it’d be easier to herd a bunch of cats across a parking lot.”

But — as I pointed out to him after he crafted that colorful bit of imagery - when one voting machine  can add 4,000 votes for one presidential candidate in a 650-vote precinct, and another one in the same state can turn a day’s balloting into a net result of negative 25 million, it may also be true that altering those machines may be easy enough that it could be pulled off not only by conspiratorial Election Supervisors, but also, just by a bunch of cats from across the parking lot.

Thoughts?  Email me at

November 9, 2004 | 3:30 p.m. ET

SECAUCUS -- A quick and haplessly generic answer now to the 6,000 emails and the hundreds of phone calls.

Firstly, thank you.

Secondly, we will indeed be resuming our coverage of the voting irregularities in Ohio and Florida -- and elsewhere -- on this evening's edition of Countdown {8:00 p.m. ET}. The two scheduled guests are Jonathan Turley, an excellent professor of law at George Washington University, and MSNBC analyst and Congressional Quarterly senior columnist Craig Crawford.

For Jonathan, the questions are obvious: the process and implications of voting reviews, especially after a candidate has conceded, even after a President has been re-elected. For Craig, the questions are equally obvious: did John Kerry's concession indeed neuter mainstream media attention to the questions about voting and especially electronic voting, and what is the political state of play on the investigations and the protests.

Phase Two, in which Doris gets her oats...

Keep them coming.  Email me at

November 9, 2004 | 12:55 a.m. ET

Electronic voting angst (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK — Bev Harris, the Blackbox lady, was apparently quoted in a number of venues during the day Monday as having written “I was tipped off by a person very high up in TV that the news has been locked down tight, and there will be no TV coverage of the real problems with voting on Nov. 2… My source said they’ve also been forbidden to talk about it even on their own time.”

I didn’t get the memo.

We were able to put together a reasonably solid 15 minutes or so on the voting irregularities in Florida and Ohio on Monday’s Countdown. There was some You-Are-There insight from the Cincinnati Enquirer reporter who had personally encountered the ‘lockdown’ during the vote count in Warren County, Ohio, a week ago, and a good deal of fairly contained comment from Representative John Conyers of Michigan, who now leads a small but growing group of Democratic congressmen who’ve written the General Accountability Office demanding an investigation of what we should gently call the Electronic Voting Angst. Conyers insisted he wasn’t trying to re-cast the election, but seemed mystified that in the 21st Century we could have advanced to a technological state in which voting— fine, flawed, or felonious— should leave no paper trail.

But the show should not have been confused with Edward R. Murrow flattening Joe McCarthy. I mean that both in terms of editorial content and controversy. I swear, and I have never been known to cover-up for any management anywhere, that I got nothing but support from MSNBC both for the Web-work and the television time. We were asked if perhaps we shouldn’t begin the program with the Fallujah offensive and do the voting story later, but nobody flinched when we argued that the Countdown format pretty much allows us to start wherever we please.

It may be different elsewhere, but there was no struggle to get this story on the air, and evidently I should be washing the feet of my bosses this morning in thanks. Because your reaction was a little different than mine. By actual rough count, between the 8 p.m. ET start of the program and 10:30 p.m. ET last night, we received 1,570 e-mails (none of them duplicates or forms, as near as I can tell). 1,508 were positive, 62 negative.

Well the volume is startling to begin with. I know some of the overtly liberal sites encouraged readers to write, but that’s still a hunk of mail, and a decisive margin (hell, 150 to 62 is considered a decisive margin). Writing this, I know I’m inviting negative comment, but so be it. I read a large number of the missives, skimmed all others, appreciate all— and all since— deeply.

Even the negative ones, because in between the repeated “you lost” nonsense and one baffling reference to my toupee (seriously, if I wore a rug, wouldn’t I get one that was all the same color?), there was a solid point raised about some of the incongruous voting noted on the website of Florida’s Secretary of State.

There, 52 counties tallied their votes using paper ballots that were then optically scanned by machines produced by Diebold, Sequoia, or Election Systems and Software. 29 of those Florida counties had large Democratic majorities among registered voters (as high a ratio as Liberty County— Bristol, Florida and environs— where it’s 88 percent Democrats, 8 percent Republicans) but produced landslides for President Bush. On Countdown, we cited the five biggest surprises (Liberty ended Bush: 1,927; Kerry: 1,070), but did not mention the other 24.

Those protesting e-mailers pointed out that four of the five counties we mentioned also went for Bush in 2000, and were in Florida’s panhandle or near the Georgia border. Many of them have long “Dixiecrat” histories and the swing to Bush, while remarkably large, isn’t of itself suggestive of voting fraud.

That the other 24 counties were scattered across the state, and that they had nothing in common except the optical scanning method, I didn’t mention. My bad. I used the most eye-popping numbers, and should have used a better regional mix instead.

Interestingly, none of the complaining emailers took issue with the remarkable results out of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. In 29 precincts there, the County’s Website shows, we had the most unexpected results in years: more votes than voters.

I’ll repeat that: more votes than voters. 93,000 more votes than voters.


Talk about successful get-out-the-vote campaigns! What a triumph for democracy in Fairview Park, twelve miles west of downtown Cleveland. Only 13,342 registered voters there, but they cast 18,472 votes.

Vote early! Vote often!

And in the continuing saga of the secret vote count in Warren County, Ohio (outside Cincinnati), no protestor offered an explanation or even a reference, excepting one sympathetic writer who noted that there was a “beautiful Mosque” in or near Warren County, and that a warning from Homeland Security might have been predicated on that fact.

To her credit, Pat South, President of the Warren County Commissioners who chose to keep the media from watching the actual vote count, was willing to come on the program— but only by phone. Instead, we asked her to compose a statement about the bizarre events at her County Administration building a week ago, which I can quote at greater length here than I did on the air.

“About three weeks prior to elections,” Ms. South stated, “our emergency services department had been receiving quite a few pieces of correspondence from the office of Homeland Security on the upcoming elections. These memos were sent out statewide, not just to Warren County and they included a lot of planning tools and resources to use for election day security.

“In a face to face meeting between the FBI and our director of Emergency Services, we were informed that on a scale from 1 to 10, the tri-state area of Southwest Ohio was ranked at a high 8 to a low 9 in terms of security risk. Warren County in particular, was rated at 10 (with 10 being the highest risk). Pursuant to the Ohio revised code, we followed the law to the letter that basically says that no one is allowed within a hundred feet of a polling place except for voters and that after the polls close the only people allowed in the board of elections area where votes are being counted are the board of election members, judges, clerks, poll challengers, police, and that no one other than those people can be there while tabulation is taking place.”

Ms. South said she admitted the media to the building’s lobby, and that they were provided with updates on the ballot-counting every half hour. Of course, the ballot-counting was being conducted on the third floor, and the idea that it would have probably looked better if Warren had done what Ohio’s other 87 counties did— at least let reporters look through windows as the tabulations proceeded— apparently didn’t occur to anybody.

Back to those emails, especially the 1,508 positive ones. Apart from the supportive words (my favorites: “Although I did not vote for Kerry, as a former government teacher, I am encouraged by your ‘covering’ the voting issue which is the basis of our government. Thank you.”), the main topics were questions about why ours was apparently the first television or mainstream print coverage of any of the issues in Florida or Ohio. I have a couple of theories.

Firstly, John Kerry conceded. As I pointed out here Sunday, no candidate’s statement is legally binding— what matters is the state election commissions’ reports, and the Electoral College vote next month. But in terms of reportorial momentum, the concession took the wind out of a lot of journalists’ aggressiveness towards the entire issue. Many were prepared for Election Night premature jocularity, and a post-vote stampede to the courts— especially after John Edwards’ late night proclamation from Boston. When Kerry brought that to a halt, a lot of the media saw something of which they had not dared dream: a long weekend off.

Don’t discount this. This has been our longest presidential campaign ever, to say nothing of the one in which the truth was most artfully hidden or manufactured. To consider this mess over was enough to get 54 percent of the respondents to an Associated Press poll released yesterday to say that the “conclusiveness” of last week’s vote had given them renewed confidence in our electoral system (of course, 39 percent said it had given them less confidence). Up for the battle for truth or not, a lot of fulltime political reporters were ready for a rest. Not me— I get to do “Oddball” and “Newsmakers” every night and they always serve to refresh my spirit, and my conviction that man is the silliest of the creator’s creations.

There’s a third element to the reluctance to address all this, I think. It comes from the mainstream’s love-hate relationship with this very thing you’re reading now: The Blog. This medium is so new that print, radio, and television don’t know what to do with it, especially given that a system of internet checks and balances has yet to develop. A good reporter may encounter a tip, or two, or five, in a day’s time. He has to check them all out before publishing or reporting.

What happens when you get 1,000 tips, all at once?

I’m sounding like an apologist for the silence of television and I don’t mean to. Just remember that when radio news arose in the '30s, the response of newspapers and the wire services was to boycott it, then try to limit it to specific hours. There’s a measure of competitiveness, a measure of confusion, and the undeniable fact that in searching for clear, non-partisan truth in this most partisan of times, the I’m-Surprised-This-Name-Never-Caught-On “Information Super Highway” becomes a road with direction signs listing 1,000 destinations each.

Having said all that— for crying out loud, all the data we used tonight on Countdown was on official government websites in Cleveland and Florida. We confirmed all of it— moved it right out of the Reynolds Wrap Hat zone in about ten minutes.

Which offers one way bloggers can help guide the mainstream at times like this: source your stuff like crazy, and the stuffier the source the better.

Enough from the soapbox. We have heard the message on the Voting Angst and will continue to cover it with all prudent speed.

Thanks for your support.

Keep them coming... Email me at

November 7, 2004 | 6:55 p.m. ET

George, John, and Warren (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK— Here’s an interesting little sidebar of our system of government confirmed recently by the crack Countdown research staff: no Presidential candidate’s concession speech is legally binding. The only determinants of the outcome of election are the reports of the state returns boards and the vote of the Electoral College.

That’s right. Richard Nixon may have phoned John Kennedy in November, 1960, and congratulated him through clenched teeth. But if the FBI had burst into Kennedy headquarters in Chicago a week later and walked out with all the file cabinets and a bunch of employees with their raincoats drawn up over their heads, nothing Nixon had said would’ve prevented him, and not JFK, from taking the oath of office the following January.

This is mentioned because there is a small but blood-curdling set of news stories that right now exists somewhere between the world of investigative journalism, and the world of the Reynolds Wrap Hat. And while the group’s ultimate home remains unclear - so might our election of just a week ago.

Stories like these have filled the web since the tide turned against John Kerry late Tuesday night. But not until Friday did they begin to spill into the more conventional news media. That’s when the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that officials in Warren County, Ohio, had “locked down” its administration building to prevent anybody from observing the vote count there.

Suspicious enough on the face of it, the decision got more dubious still when County Commissioners confirmed that they were acting on the advice of their Emergency Services Director, Frank Young. Mr. Young had explained that he had been advised by the federal government to implement the measures for the sake of Homeland Security.

Gotcha. Tom Ridge thought Osama Bin Laden was planning to hit Caesar Creek State Park in Waynesville. During the vote count in Lebanon. Or maybe it was Kings Island Amusement Park that had gone Code-Orange without telling anybody. Al-Qaeda had selected Turtlecreek Township for its first foray into a Red State.

The State of Ohio confirms that of all of its 88 Counties, Warren alone decided such Homeland Security measures were necessary. Even in Butler County, reports the Enquirer, the media and others were permitted to watch through a window as ballot-checkers performed their duties. In Warren, the media was finally admitted to the lobby of the administration building, which may have been slightly less incommodious for the reporters, but which still managed to keep them two floors away from the venue of the actual count.

Nobody in Warren County seems to think they’ve done anything wrong. The newspaper quotes County Prosecutor Rachel Hurtzel as saying the Commissioners “were within their rights” to lock the building down, because having photographers or reporters present could have interfered with the count.

You bet, Rachel.

As I suggested, this is the first time one of the Fix stories has moved fully into the mainstream media. In so saying, I’m not dismissing the blogosphere. Hell, I’m in the blogosphere now, and there have been nights when I’ve gotten far more web hits than television viewers (thank you, Debate Scorecard readers). Even the overt partisanship of blogs don’t bother me - Tom Paine was a pretty partisan guy, and ultimately that served truth a lot better than a ship full of neutral reporters would have. I was just reading last night of the struggles Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer had during their early reporting from Europe in ’38 and ’39, because CBS thought them too anti-Nazi.

The only reason I differentiate between the blogs and the newspapers is that in the latter, a certain bar of ascertainable, reasonably neutral, fact has to be passed, and has to be approved by a consensus of reporters and editors. The process isn’t flawless (ask Dan Rather) but the next time you read a blog where bald-faced lies are accepted as fact, ask yourself whether we here in cyberspace have yet achieved the reliability of even the mainstream media. In short, a lot gets left out of newspapers, radio, and tv - but what’s left in tends to be, in the words of my old CNN Sports colleague NickCharles, a lead-pipe cinch.

Thus the majority of the media has yet to touch the other stories of Ohio (the amazing Bush Times Ten voting machine in Gahanna) or the sagas of Ohio South: huge margins for Bush in Florida counties in which registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 2-1, places where the optical scanning of precinct totals seems to have turned results from perfect matches for the pro-Kerry exit poll data, to Bush sweeps.

We will be endeavoring to pull those stories, along with the Warren County farce, into the mainstream Monday and/or Tuesday nights on Countdown. That is, if we can wedge them in there among the news media’s main concerns since last Tuesday:

  • Who fixed the Exit Polls? Yes - you could deliberately skew a national series of post-vote questionnaires in favor of Kerry to discourage people from voting out west, where everything but New Mexico had been ceded to Kerry anyway, but you couldn’t alter key precinct votes in Ohio and/or Florida; and,
  • What will Bush do with his Mandate and his Political Capital? He got the highest vote total for a presidential candidate, you know. Did anybody notice who’s second on the list? A Mr. Kerry. Since when was the term “mandate” applied when 56 million people voted against a guy? And by the way, how about that Karl Rove and his Freudian slip on “Fox News Sunday”? Rove was asked if the electoral triumph would be as impactful on the balance of power between the parties as William McKinley’s in 1896 and he forgot his own talking points. The victories were “similarly narrow,” Rove began, and then, seemingly aghast at his forthrightness, corrected himself. “Not narrow; similarly structured.”

Gotta dash now. Some of us have to get to work on the Warren and Florida stories.

In the interim, Senator Kerry, kindly don’t leave the country.

Thoughts? Let me know at

November 3, 2004 | 2:51 a.m. ET

Pick a total, any total (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — At 2:37 A.M. Eastern Time, the five major television news organizations were in complete disagreement over the electoral count:

  • NBC: Bush 269 Kerry 211.
  • Fox:  Bush 269 Kerry 238.
  • CNN: Bush 249 Kerry 242.
  • CBS: Bush 249 Kerry 238.
  • ABC: Bush 249 Kerry 225.

Remember when I scored the debates as boxing matches? Those are boxing judges' scorecard totals— and not one of them agrees.

The Kerry campaign announcing at 2:45 a.m. ET, a "full lid" -- political news terminology for no further comment for the night.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

November 3, 2004 | 1:46 a.m. ET

Premature jocularity (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS— Oh, here we go.

The legal equivalent of the Bat Signal has just gone up from Cleveland.

The Kerry Campaign isn’t going to concede until the last lawyer is spent in Ohio. Manager Mary Beth Cahill issuing the statement at 1:27 AM EST and to quote it in full: "The vote count in Ohio has not been completed. There are more than 250,000 remaining votes to be counted. We believe when they are, John Kerry will win Ohio."

The Ohio challenge actually began yesterday when two Federal District judges ruled that Republican vote-challengers could not position themselves at the poll. Those Republicans successfully appealed, and then the court actions began to multiply like rabbits.

Today came news of interminable lines, voters offered paper ballots in voting districts that had no provisions for counting them, and then the provisional ballots issue. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet for litigators.

And when we wondered if it could be worse than 2000, we just found the way. I split part of October in 1997 between Miami and Cleveland, covering the World Series. Miami was warm, humid, and enjoyable. Cleveland had a wind-chill of 22 degrees with snow.

So it’s Florida— only with parkas.

November 3, 2004 | 12:18 a.m. ET

Too close leads too early by two million (Keith Olbermann)

So much for the ultra-conservative state-calling by the television networks in the wake of the debacle of 2000.

As midnight came to the East, ABC and CBS, were out there, alone, having called Florida for the President. Just as four years ago, that’s great if they’re right. But if they’re not, it will again guarantee a long-running dispute and perhaps a Constitutional crisis.

And in the interim, the fact that two big news organizations called Florida for Bush while the others - CNN, Fox, NBC - did not immediately follow, may foment a crisis whether the Florida prediction is wrong or right. If the assumption of the last few months is correct and that the Democrats will cede nothing, the partial-prediction may have already given Senator Kerry a platform from which to mount a protest or a contest, whether it’s justified or not.

Also shaping up as a controversy, the quality of the exit-polling— all of which looked disastrous for Bush from late afternoon onwards. What happened there will be heavily scrutinized, and the question will be raised, did it replace the quick-calling of 2000 as the area in which the media (and the campaigns) could replace fact with extrapolation.

November 2, 2004 | 10:35 p.m. ET

It's 10 p.m., do you know where your spin is? (Keith Olbermann)

Secaucus — How right have we been tonight about the distress in the White House? The re-election campaign admitted a pool camera and still photographers to the residence to videotape images of Mr. Bush and his family sitting around stiffly on a couch, he in a white shirt and a tie, smiling towards the media and saying “I believe I will win. It’s going to be an exciting evening.”

Well, the night Titanic sank was an exciting evening.

The President’s men had begun whining about the exit polling and its interpretation since shortly after 7 PM tonight. Norah O’Donnell’s 9:50 EST report had referred to “anxiety” from Republicans out in the field, and perhaps the odd photo-op was designed as much to reassure them as to counter-effect the exit polling with which the White House so fervently disagreed.

Brian Williams offered the astute observation that the White House did need to influence photo and videotape selection. Mr. Bush had been captured with stern and/or exhausted looks on his face at yesterday’s pre-election events, and today’s voting - and that’s the last thing the campaign wanted to project. Hence, in Norah’s phrase, the decision to “put the President out.”

As I write here Mr. Bush is up by around 80 Electoral Votes, and just about that many from the promised land. But the Zogby forecast from 5:30 EST tonight — which ends with Senator Kerry getting at least 311 and the President no more than 227 —has performed flawlessly through the first 32 NBC state projections.

Zogby’s forecast will be sorely tested in the next few hours in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Washington, and Wisconsin - all of which he’s predicted for Kerry. And then, later—maybe much later— the big three: Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, all of which Zogby thought were “trending” to Kerry. Interestingly, if Zogby’s model holds up in the smaller states, Kerry could lose Ohio and Pennsylvania and still gain the White House— providing he wins Florida.

November 2, 2004 | 9:01 p.m. ET

Exit numbers meaning a Bush exit?

Secaucus — The exit polling is sometimes easy enough to read that even I can figure it out.

The NBC information released at 8:23 indicates numbers crushing for the president’s hopes of gaining significant votes based on the war in Iraq.

Only 12% of voters nationally agreed that things were “going well” in Iraq, and only another 32% said things were going “somewhat well” there. 55% were clearly negative, saying things were going “badly.”

More significantly perhaps, the President’s argument that the war in Iraq is a component of the war on terror, was only partially successful with voters. 52% of today’s voters, 45% said the two elements were separate.

Overall, the exit polls show voters evenly split about the wisdom to go into Iraq in the first place, 48-48.

And most strikingly, when asked if the action in Iraq improved our security or harmed it, only 43 percent said it had improved it - 54 percent felt otherwise.

No wonder Norah O’Donnell latest report refers to more grim faces inside the White House strategy and war rooms - what we liked to call the “interior numbers” would suggest that the fundaments of the President’s reelection strategy haven’t succeeded, and the Zogby forecast of a Kerry 100+ Electoral College vote looks ever-increasingly plausible.

And those “interior numbers” in Ohio fascinate.

The NBC exit polling there suggests the state saw 800,000 new voters — 13 percent of the entire electorate there — and they went 56-44 Kerry (58-41 Kerry among those under 30), with the only demographic group going for the President in Ohio being those 60 and over.

But Ohio still shows the closeness of the votes-in-hand.

As of 8:15 EST, out of the 40,367 absentee ballots cast in Franklin County — that’s Columbus, the President led Senator Kerry by exactly 267 of them. That’s not the case in Cuyahoga (Cleveland), where Kerry got nearly two out of every three absentees (49,816 to 27,770).     

November 2, 2004 | 7:34 p.m. ET

"Discouragement" at the White House (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS — That’s the term used by NBC’s White House Correspondent David Gregory in his 7:05 PM report, describing the reaction of President Bush’s “top advisors” in a war room within the war room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

David’s sources report a “tense” set of advisors, who have already determined an unwanted “tightness in the race,” not unlike what they saw in the waning days of the 2000 Gore-Bush vote.

Any time word leaks of an incumbent official’s top advisors being “discouraged” when only a handful of states have closed, you can interpret the verbal body language. They’ve seen it, it’s bad, and it’s likely to get worse - so maybe Friend Zogby’s 100-point electoral margin for Kerry is not so wildly broad as it may have first looked (two posts down).

The NBC News Exit Polling released at 7:23 EST continues to provide troubling numbers for the incumbent:

  • 50% of today’s voters say the country is on the wrong track; 47% say it’s going in the right direction.
  • The first numbers on Mr. Bush’s job approval are razor tight: 51% positive, 47% negative.
  • The partisanship within those numbers is extraordinary: 92% of Republicans give the President approval; 84% of Democrats disapprove.

On the Senatorial level, only one of the races thus far called affects the swing: the Republicans taking the open seat in Georgia. The good news for the GOP is that Congressman Johnny Isakson is projected to beat the Democratic Congresswoman Denise Majette. The bad news is, the seat belonged to Zell Miller, so it’s a numerical loss for the Democrats but not much of a political one.

North Carolina is evidently close enough that Democratic VP nominee John Edwards actually held his plane on the tarmac in Orlando so he could call in to African-American radio stations in North Carolina to push the candidacy of former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles over Republican Congressman Richard Burr.

November 2, 2004 | 6:46 p.m. ET

Notes from the balance of power desk (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS— Which, you may be as delighted to read as I was to see, was still being constructed — plastic flats being stapled into place — even as Chris Matthews was signing on from Democracy Plaza.

The tone of Norah O’Donnell’s first report from the White House suggested that whatever the Re-Election Campaign is reading in the way of exit polls, they must be similar to the 5:30 ET final Zogby tracking numbers which forecast a Kerry landslide by as many as 100 Electoral Votes (while giving Mr. Bush an absolutely useless popular majority of 3/10ths of one percent). Norah reported the President and his supporters putting on positive but somewhat forced faces.

If they read those Zogby numbers, we know why (I summarized Zogby’s findings in the previous post — scroll down).

And if they heard the first set of nationwide exit polling released by NBC a little after 6 PM, the White House can’t be very hopeful:

  • 54% thought the economy was “not good”; only 45% “good.”
  • 46% thought they were worse off today than they were in 2000; only 21% said they were better off;
  • Only 52% said they thought we were safer from the threat of terrorism now than before; 43% thought we were less safe.
  • And while 53% said they were somewhat worried about another terrorist attack, just 22% described themselves as “very” worried, a comparatively small percentage.

The last two numbers can be interpreted in favor of either candidate (although it seems like more mental gymnastics would be required to spin them in Mr. Bush’s favor). Those first two — I don’t think so.

All of which brings us to what might be a very unpleasant Election Night party in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington— the President’s soiree.

The Washington Post reported this morning that reporters are only being admitted to the grounds  if they pay $300 - $500 if they want food.

That doesn’t even get them inside.

The ticket cost got the journalist a two foot by three foot work space, and a chair (padded), in a tent near the party itself, plus the right to watch the party on closed-circuit television.

Periodically, small groups of reporters will be escorted into the building atrium to gather “color” —what it looks like— but they won’t be permitted to talk to guests (although a twenty might get you a quote if you ask the right person).

Question: If there’s no Bush party tonight, do the reporters get their money back?

November 2, 2004 | 5:51 p.m. ET

Redskin rule and Carter corollary (Keith Olbermann)

Secaucus — John Zogby’s polling was generally considered the most accurate during the crazed 2000 election, and if he maintains that measure of reliability, you can go to sleep now.

Zogby’s final tracking poll, state by state, released at 5:30 EST, suggests the prospect of a Kerry win by a margin of 311 Electoral Votes to 213, with only Colorado and Nevada too close to call (and representing just fourteen votes between them).

Oh and by the way, he has Mr. Bush winning the popular vote, narrowly— an irony of biblical proportions that one Democratic pollster rated a one-in-three chance just last week.

It should be noted Zogby is doing a lot of extrapolating. In the two from Column A (Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania), two from Column B (Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin) states, he gives them all to Kerry. But Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are listed as “trending Kerry” based on exit polling. The smaller three states show Kerry up by 5-6%.

If he’s right, it upholds both the Redskin Rule (a bloody football team would be 18-0 predicting who gets to run the country) and the Carter Corollary (no incumbent is reelected nor defeated narrowly).

A lot of people remaining uncertain that he’s right.

November 2, 2004 | 5:15 p.m. ET

Why is red red, and blue blue? (Keith Olbermann)

SECAUCUS— So in the most ambiguously colored of the states, Florida, the Kerry Campaign reported within the hour that voting has been "very smooth." The spokesman, Matthew Miller, says the campaign has received word of less than 20 voter challenges and only about 1,000 provisional ballots being issued. The Bush campaign agrees on those rough figures and everybody seems stunned by the smoothness, though there was one confirmed case of that Internet animation gag coming true. You probably got it in an e-mail: a guy trying to vote for Kerry on one of the touch-screens, and various "are you sure you don't mean Bush" messages appearing instead. It apparently happened to one voter in Pinellas County, where she needed six tries to get "Bush" from popping up, even after she repeatedly hit "Kerry."

In an ominous sign for those of you who want the Red/Blue election decision and Christmas to coincide, however, they cleared it up.

Which reminds me: where the hell did this Red/Blue stuff come from, anyway?

If you happen to pull down your VHS copy of NBC’s coverage of the 1976 Election (what? You didn’t roll tape? Regretting that now, aren’t you?) you’ll see David Brinkley and Tom Brokaw and John Chancellor referring to a huge map not very much dissimilar from the ones we’re showing tonight on MSNBC. It’s full of Red States and Blue States.

The Blue States, obviously, belong to then-President Gerald Ford, the Republican.

The Red States, naturally, belong to his challenger, Jimmy Carter, the Democrat.


The newspaper The Bergen Record noted this curious historical fact in an article a few weeks ago which tried to trace our now standardized, clichéd representation of this nation as Red Nation and Blue Nation. Turns out the standardization is a pretty damn recent thing— 2000, in fact.

As late as 1980 on ABC, Red was for the Democrats, Blue for the Republicans (and white for the not-yet-called states). So there’s your color scheme: Red, White, and Blue.

So the Red and the Blue have no more historical status than four years’ worth. And in the big picture, they are interchangeable— the Washington Post not only noted today that its color maps of the election were Red/Democrat, Blue/Republican as late as 2000, but that the first reversal appears to have occured on MSNBC just a week before the 2000 vote.

They thus fall into that category filled with similar contradictions and reversals. When the National Hockey League was divided into two divisions, American and Canadian, a now-defunct team called the New York Americans played, incongruously, in the Canadian Division. And for years, the official name of the American League baseball team in the capital was “The Washington Nationals.”

One further historical curiosity missed by The Record and others researching the Red/Blue phenomenon. Before World War II, when there were only about five national radio networks, NBC owned not just one, but two of them. They were each identified as NBC, with the only differentiation being that the one originally owned by RCA was called the NBC Blue Network, and the one purchased by RCA from AT&T was called the NBC Red Network. The government later forced RCA to sell one of the networks (Blue) to the man behind Life Savers candy - he re-named it ABC in 1946.

Two closing personal notes. Not to encourage you to do this, but if you happen to catch the CNN shot from the new Time-Warner Center in New York (they used it during Crossfire), you can see my house on the right. I opted not to hang out a “CNN *****” sign on my balcony.

And it was very entertaining to see on the “Citizen Journalists” page here a shot of a college freshman— Danny David— proudly holding his absentee ballot, one of which was provided last June to each member of his high school graduating class.

Turns out the high school is in Hastings-On-Hudson, New York— my hometown.

November 2, 2004 | 1:34 p.m. ET

Gore's Law and the Redskin Rule (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK - Somebody’s Law (we don’t know whose; fittingly, he forgot to name it after himself) tells us that if we ignore a prospective logistical disaster, it’ll promptly occur, but if we’re fully prepared for it, especially if we’ve spent large sums of money in the preparation, it won’t happen.

Perhaps we can name the law after Al Gore. Or pick a television executive. For, clearly, the election four years ago was a confluence of everything the media and the politicians had ignored: the failure of exit polling, the naked partisanship of judges and state officials, the haste of tv newsrooms, the premature jocularity of the candidates themselves.

Well, we have so many counterweights in place this year - from the daily e-mails reminding us tv types that we don’t get a bonus for “extrapolating” data (i.e., making stuff up), to nearly every analyst predicting a late night or a late morning or a late autumn decision, to the roaming packs of election attorneys foraging across the countryside like those cloned Homer Simpsons in the Halloween episode a few years back, to the voters who apparently this morning followed the old joke: Vote Early, Vote Often.

With that much preparation, Gore’s Law insists - nothing will happen.

The President and Senator Kerry haven’t agreed on much, but they both insisted the election would be decided tonight, not next month. We had two Secretaries of Commerce on Countdown last night, Don Evans and Mickey Kantor, and they said the election would be decided tonight (although when Evans asked one question I asked each of them - if you had a choice of seeing your opponent win, or having the process dragged out as badly or worse than it was in 2000, which would you choose - Evans said the country survived the 2000 process quite nicely, thus scaring the shinola out of me).

So, if Gore’s Law predicts a decision tonight, what are the augurs about who?

— On the ground at mid-day, we have the Miami Herald’s reports of the voting going surprisingly quickly and smoothly in Florida (sure it is: those touch-pad machines are actually just modified Speak & Spell toys for children - the votes aren’t being recorded at all). Craig Crawford said last night that the early exit polling from Florida saw heavy Democratic voting, which surprised both of us, and when Secretary Evans reported that his party would have the greatest get-out-the-vote-effort in history, John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal said “they’d better” because if they don’t, the Democrats will.

— We have the late ruling of the Ohio Appeals Court, voting 2-1 along party lines to let the Republican Piranha Lawyers back in to the polling places to challenge anybody named Dick Tracy or Mary Poppins who shows up, having been enrolled by the guy who claims he got paid in crack cocaine. Does anybody besides me find that entire story just too perfect to be true?

— We have the last set of pre-voting numbers from Zogby. It’s kind of close. As of 5 PM yesterday he has Bush at 252 Electoral Votes and Kerry at 252, with only Pennsylvania (21 votes) and Virginia (14 votes) outstanding - and each state tied. That bodes poorly for Gore’s Law - although I have no idea if Zogby has yet applied the Carter Corollary that he himself pushed so hard once Kerry had sealed the Democratic nomination, namely that the undecideds always break against the incumbent.

The top supporting evidence for Gore’s Law is of course Sunday’s application of The Redskin Rule. I wrote it about it here at (probably too great) length, and then the Kerry-Edwards campaign got it wrong while boasting it. In short, in the 17 elections since the football team became the Redskins, its last home game before the vote has presaged the presidential outcome. Redskins win, and the incumbent party retains the White House; Redskins lose, and the challengers take over. The Redskins lost on Sunday, 28-14, to the Green Bay Packers in a game that even came complete with a rallying Washington touchdown called back due to a penalty flag thrown by Celebrity Referee Antonin Scalia.

You know, that joke killed at Democracy Plaza on Sunday.

Immediately after the Green Bay victory, somebody in the Kerry-Edwards camp issued an overwrought news release, complete with an overwrought quote attributed to the candidate, claiming that the streak dated back to Herbert Hoover and Herbert Hoover lost all those jobs and so did George Bush and Herbert Hoover then lost his job and so will George Bush.

Down, Sparky!

The Redskin Rule dates back not to 1932 (Hoover) but 1936 (Alf Landon). In 1932, the franchise, then still called The Boston Football Braves, actually won its last home game, against The Staten Island Stapletons (yes, Staten Island had an NFL team), which should have predicted Hoover retaining the White House, not losing it.

I do all this research about this thus-far infallible forecaster and you guys don’t bother to read it?

Anyway, the Redskin Rule says nothing about margin of victory, length of election, or the beneficiary understanding it and not keeping his big bazoo closed long enough to avoid possibly jinxing it. So, if it doesn’t work this time, John Kerry has nobody to blamebut himself.    

Got something to say?  E-mail me at

October 31, 2004 | 9:47 a.m. ET

Of Rehearals and Reelections (Keith Olbermann)

NEW YORK - After six months telling us that Tuesday is going to be tighter than Britney Spears’ pants, the murmurs from the cognoscenti during our MSNBC election rehearsal last night reflected a much older conventional wisdom: that incumbents never have tight elections, win or lose.

The bigger-margin-than-we-thought talk was not the result of the rehearsal. For the pure purposes of practicing, elaborate story lines are created (for the paranoid of both parties, it’s your worst fear come true: the same people who’ll bring you the election results are making stuff up on-camera). But even these were relatively balanced from a smorgasboard of scenarios: a big Kerry win, a big Bush win, lines of thousands waiting to vote and polling hours extended in a swing state, early reports of voters being blocked from the polling places - all that good juicy political science fiction stuff that, if we had been thinking, we should have recorded, edited down, and sold as a DVD.

No, the “somebody by 30 Electoral votes” talk was history itself speaking: the Clinton and Reagan second-term victories, the Bush 41 and especially the Carter defeats. Carter’s was invoked because on the Friday before it, the 1980 election looked as tight as, well, to adjust the cultural reference, Cher’s pants, yet Reagan wound up walking away on Tuesday. The theory goes that by now, the electorate has pretty much made its mind up on the incumbent: they either want him back or they don’t.

The benefit of the large-margin doubt talk seemed to be mostly in the President’s favor, and I have to assume that has to do with the Osama Bin Laden tape from Friday. I follow the logic - there is a significant tide of terror anxiety prevalent among the proverbial Soccer Moms (that’s why otherwise Democratic-controlled New Jersey is believed to be in play).

But I guess what I don’t follow is the logic of the Soccer Moms.

I saw or read nearly the entirety of the Bin Laden tape and it’s the damnedest one yet. I can’t understand how it could be viewed as being beneficial to Mr. Bush. On a fundamental level, it’s clearly recently-recorded - the Ramadan reference suggests maybe as late as a week ago - and he’s clearly alive and healthy. I can’t imagine that among the Soccer Moms and the others dismissing all other issues to focus their vote solely on the terror threat, that one of the other primal reactions in their synapses wouldn’t be “Umm, how come we haven’t caught him yet? Who’s in charge of that?”

And to anybody who listened to the madman’s comments had to feel perversely liberated. Unless the tape was an elaborate, subtle feint to suddenly get this country to let it’s guard down (a very poor bet, to say nothing of exhibiting nuanced psychological planning in which the terrorists have shown no prior interest whatsoever) - Al-Qaeda’s sole intervention in this election will have turned out to be its head gangster to announcing that it didn’t really matter to him who anybody voted for, because the re-election of Bush or the election of Kerry wasn’t going to impact how Al-Qaeda wants to impact us.

This has to, in some minds anyway, have reduced the apocalyptic anticipations which the Bush-Cheney campaign has repeatedly invoked. Bin Laden may not be one for subtle actions, but it can’t have been accidental that he appeared without his trademark sub-machine gun. It’s not like he forgot it back in the cave. Don’t get me wrong on this: I’m not buying his explanations nor his posture as a borderline-sane geo-politician. But those intentions were clear. That was a policy speech. In his lunacy, he probably thought it was statesmanship.

I may be wildly wrong about its impact in the days before this election. It may very well be that the It-Helps-Bush crowd is right, that the knee jerk reaction will certify the re-election: There’s Osama, Better Keep Bush. Back in my sports days when people asked me for a prediction on a game I used to be smart enough to invoke the great sportscaster Red Barber’s standard reply: If I knew in advance who’d win, they wouldn’t have to bother playing the game, would they?

But I’m covering news now, therefore I am dumber.

And I think the political analysts have forgotten to examine the psychology of an electorate under the stress of war and fear. For the longest time, even when Mr. Bush’s approval ratings were at their apex in the post-Afghanistan and immediate post-Saddam periods, I kept wondering if he wouldn’t fall victim to the Winston Churchill effect.

Mid-20th Century British politics aren’t taught much in American schools any more, but it has fascinated me always that in the spring of 1945, with Hitler dead, England’s gamble to fight the Nazis having been vindicated, and his own gallantry and leadership acclaimed universally, that the British promptly voted Churchill out of office in favor of a first-time Prime Minister in Clement Attlee. It astonished Churchill, and British pollsters, and world leaders in general.

There were many factors - the country clamored for universal health care (sound familiar?) and Churchill loathed the concept. But I always wished someone had conducted an exit poll, not with statisticians or political volunteers, but with psychologists. I continue to wonder if the British voters, in the brief quietude of their voting booths, hadn’t looked at Churchill’s name and seen not just victory, but also death and destruction and most of all anxiety, and if they hadn’t said “Thanks for getting us through that, Buddy. We’d like to forget that now. Bye bye.”

What will sound more loudly in the psyches of more voters on Tuesday? The idea that terrorists are still an extraordinary threat, or the idea that George Bush’s presidency, whether through his fault or merely by the circumstances of history, has been a time of stress and death and war and falling skyscrapers and terror color codes - things we may or may not be personally able to alter or impact in any way - but which we really wish would just go away.

When offered an incumbent for a second term, a country has always tended to decide not just on a man, but also on an era. I’ve wondered for two years if the Americans of our time would choose - rightly or wrongly, thoughtfully or naively - to ask Mr. Bush to go away, and take the years 2001-2004 with him.

The history of the large margins for or against an incumbent with which I started these meanderings, and which we’ll address in a special Sunday edition of Countdown tonight, includes FDR and Abraham Lincoln. It’s a shocking fact to look at the 1944 vote, in the midst of a World War the necessity and conduct of which few had any doubts, and see that Roosevelt gained a fourth term by only 53-46 over Thomas E. Dewey.

And as to our greatest war-time leader, the history books show Lincoln having handled General George McLellan pretty easily in 1864, 55-45. Less easily remembered is that as late as that August, Lincoln was certain he wouldn’t be returned to office, his greatest media ally Horace Greeley wrote of how the nation begged for peace at any price, and that leaders in his own party were calculating if there was still time to nominate another candidate.

People wanted it to all go away.

And then Sherman captured Atlanta.

The videotape may remind voters, perhaps in a deeply subconscious way, that Mr. Bush has not made Osama Bin Laden go away, and there doesn’t seem to be an Atlanta on the schedule between now and Tuesday night.

Thoughts? email me at

October 29, 2004| 11:13 a.m. ET

Election to be decided Sunday (Keith Olbermann)

New York— Well, so much for saving the Bill O’Reilly tapes. We got up to about $175,000 in your pledges (excuse me for a 1970ism, but how far out is that?) but we couldn’t top Bill O’Reilly, who may have paid a year’s salary ($2M-$10M, says The New York Daily News) to keep the tapes from showing up at Tower Records. We’ll have to settle for those lovely transcripts and the knowledge that you can never get all the toothpaste back in the tube, nor all the soap out of the loofah.

We now rejoin the election, already in progress.

And, as teased here these last two days, we might be told Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, or not until January 15th, but, if history holds, we will know by around 4 p.m. EST Sunday who will be president next year. There are many irrelevant indicators out there on which to hang a forecast (the NASCAR dads, the stock market, Robert Novak), but to my knowledge only one logical fallacy has stood the test of time. So here goes.

By definition, the logical fallacy, of course is simply this: Event A occurs. Then Event B occurs. Therefore, Event A caused Event B. Obviously, it’s simply not true. Nonetheless, when the presidential election is this close, we look for anything and everything that might predict the outcome— whether common-sense or logically fallacious.

And as logical fallacies go, we are privileged to have a doozy, one that seems to have correctly predicted the last seventeen Presidential Elections.

Terror? The economy? The incumbent’s final rating in the Gallup poll? Turnout in Ohio?


It’s the Washington Redskins.

The football team with the politically incorrect name has been anything but incorrect in presaging which party will win the White House. The franchise began its life in Boston in 1932, when George Preston Marshall bought a dormant team that had gone belly-up in Newark. Originally named after the baseball team in town— the Braves— they were re-christened the Redskins in 1933, and thus it would not be until November 1st, 1936, that the ‘Skins played their first game during an election season.

In their last game home before the vote, the Boston Redskins beat the Chicago Cardinals 13 to 10. And two days later, Franklin Roosevelt was reelected president. By the time FDR ran again in 1940, Marshall had moved the Redskins to Griffith Stadium in Washington. And, again, in their last home game before that election, the Redskins beat Pittsburgh 37-10, and Roosevelt was returned to office.

On November 5th, 1944, it was Cleveland at Washington. Redskins won 14-10. Two days later, Roosevelt was re-re-reelected. And four years later, they repeated the trick, preceding Harry Truman’s unexpected holding of the White House for the Democrats. The Redskins were now 4-0 in their “election day games”— and so were the Democrats.

But on November 2nd, 1952, the Redskins, in their last home game before the vote, lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-23. And days later, Democrat Adlai Stevenson lost the presidency to Dwight Eisenhower. In '56, it was a pre-election home victory for Washington, and a re-election for Ike.

And in 1960, the tanking Redskins were clobbered in that last home game before the vote, by Cleveland, by 21 points. Nine days later, it was John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon, by about 21 votes. And by now, the pattern had emerged. If the Redskins won their final home game before a presidential election, the incumbent party kept the White House. If the Redskins lost that game, so did the party in power.

And this, remarkably, has held up:

1964: Skins 27, Bears 20. Lyndon Johnson retains the office.

1968: Washington loses the last home game before the vote, to the New York Giants. The Democrats fall out of power, in favor of Richard Nixon

1972: Skins win; so does Nixon.

1976: Washington loses to Dallas; Republican Gerald Ford loses to Democrat Jimmy Carter.

1980: They lose again; Carter loses to Republican Ronald Reagan.

1984: Washington wins, Reagan wins again.

1988: Washington wins, George W. Bush wins.

1992: Washington loses to the Giants 24 to 7, and the incumbent party is bounced again: Bush out, Clinton in.

1996: Clinton's re-election is foretold: the Redskins win their final home game before the vote, against Indianapolis.

Going into the Bush-Gore race of 2000, the outcome of Washington's last home game before the election had coincided perfectly for 16 consecutive games, and 16 consecutive elections: 10 Redskins wins, each of which is followed by the incumbent president and/or party retaining the office, and six Redskins losses, each of which is followed by the incumbent president and/or party losing  the office.

On October 30th, 2000, the Washington Redskins, with, to that point, 6 victories and 2 losses, hosted the Tennessee Titans, who had 6 victories and 1 loss. In betting circles it was a virtual toss-up, with a slight edge to Washington because it was playing at home. The Redskins scored first and led 7-0, giving an early hint that the Democrats would retain the White House. But Tennessee rallied to go in front 20-7, and hold on for a 27-21 win. It’s a six-point victory, and, six weeks later, a five-electoral-vote victory for George W. Bush— of the party that had been out of office, the Republicans.

Now it would be really spooky if those 17 games had all surprises, upsets as they call them. I was disappointed to find, after having gone back and calculated won-lost records and intangibles, that, in fact, all but three times the Redskins were favored to win and did, or they were expected to lose and did. Then again, how many elections in that same span have really been upsets? Truman, anecdotally if not truly; maybe Reagan over Carter, probably Bush over Gore— and no, the Redskins’ game upsets do not perfectly coincide with the election upsets.

Still, it's some streak. The Redskins have played home games before 17 Presidential Elections, and only 17 Presidential Elections, and their results have easily and without qualification forecast the outcomes of all 17.

And now for the 64-billion dollar question. When is/was the Redskins’ last game before this year's election? The one in which the prophecy says, if they win, George Bush is re-elected, and, if they lose, John Kerry takes office? It’s Sunday, against the Green Bay Packers, who’ve won two in a row. Who play in Lambeau Field— which Senator Kerry infamously misidentified earlier in the campaign as Lambert Field. The Redskins, meanwhile, have already suffered a four-game losing streak and found that the return of Coach Joe Gibbs (himself a NASCAR owner and presumably a NASCAR dad) has not been the panacea Washington sports fans always expect as if it was an unfunded federal mandate.

Oddsmakers favor Green Bay by two or two-and-a-half points, which, as any politician— or football gambler— can tell you, is well inside the margin of error.

But this is an ironclad sports tradition:

Skins win, incumbents stay in;

Skins lose, incumbents are old news.

An ironclad sports tradition, just like the fact that in 122 years of post-season competition, no baseball team has ever come back from down three-nothing to win a playoff series.

Oh, wait—  didn’t somebody just do that?

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