Political Calculations
Unexpectedly Intriguing!
30 December 2004

From the Captain's Quarters this morning, comes word that there is a state-wide election that will be redone in North Carolina, following reports of some 4,438 uncounted ballots turning up post-election in a malfunctioning electronic voting machine in Carteret County. The election in question pitts Republican Steve Troxler against incumbent Democrat Britt Cobb in the race to be the next North Carolina Agricultural Commissioner.

With these details out of the way, let's compare this race to the Governor's race in Washington. First, we'll take the most recent election tally from the Raleigh-Durham News & Observer, and plug them into my Simple Majority Calculator, along with the uncounted ballots, which I've placed in the "other" category:

Raw Vote Data
Input Data Values
Votes Counted for the Republican Steve Troxler
Votes Counted for the Democrat Britt Cobb
Uncounted Absentee Ballots
Uncounted Provisional Ballots
Other Uncounted Ballots

Votes and Percentage Breakdowns
Calculated Results Values
Total Vote Count
Votes Needed to Win a Simple Majority
Percentage of Uncounted Votes Needed for Steve Troxler to Win
Percentage of Uncounted Votes Needed for Britt Cobb to Win

Assuming you've hit the "Calculate" button (and how could you not?!), you've found that the Democratic candidate in this race has a nearly insurmountable chance of being able to turn defeat into victory (also given that Carteret County split nearly 60-40 in favor of the Republican candidate). But, the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which is split 3-2 in favor of the Democrats has opted for a different strategy than that taken in Washington state. Rather than adding the uncounted ballots to the already counted totals, as was done for Democrat-dominated King County in Washington, the North Carolina Board has instead chosen to re-run the election for the agricultural commissioner post state-wide (and not just in the affected county.) The only apparent rationale, by my observation, is that the incumbent Democrat would stand a better chance of winning the race, particularly since it has been estimated that an election-day turnout of just 10% could be expected for the special election for this relatively minor state-wide office.

The bottom line in the (WARNING: Gratuituous Self-Plug Alert) political calculations here, is that the different strategies here in North Carolina and across the country in Washington's governor's race have been taken for the apparent sole purpose of benefitting the standing of the Democratic candidate. As such, the predictable outcome is that when state election boards are skewed toward one party, and whose decisions are not held to tight legal standards, election related rulings will skew in favor of the dominant party of the election board.

Update: The last two paragraphs have been edited for greater clarity.

29 December 2004

It never fails. I leave my computer behind for a few days to celebrate Christmas, and when I get back, I find that the folks at both Sound Politics and Pull on Superman's Cape (linked below) have been crunching numbers to calculate the probabilities of having the Washington State governor's race turn out the way it has to date, albeit with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Of the two, I strongly recommend reading the detailed instructions posted at Pull on Superman's Cape, which I have used to create the Recounting Odds calculator, presented below:

Republican Candidate Vote Data
Total Number of Votes Received in the Original Tally
Total Number of Votes Received in the Recount
Democratic Candidate Vote Data
Total Number of Votes Received in the Original Tally
Total Number of Votes Received in the Recount

Calculated Values, Percentages and Probability
Total Number of Votes Counted in the Original Tally
Total Number of Votes Counted in the Recount
Percentages and Probabilities for the Republican Candidate
Percentage of Votes Received in the Original Tally (%)
Percentage of Votes Received in the Recount(%)
Change in Number of Votes Received from the Original Tally
Percentages and Probabilities for the Democratic Candidate
Percentage of Votes Received in the Original Tally (%)
Percentage of Votes Received in the Recount (%)
Change in Number of Votes Received from the Original Tally
Probability Results
Overall Odds of these Changes Occurring

As noted in the Pull on Superman's Cape article, the odds calculated from each consecutive recount may be multiplied together to determine the overall chances of the reported outcomes occurring consecutively, which in the case the of the Washington governor's race, was found to be 17,650,517 to 1. The following list of the relative odds of certain events occurring is hereby presented for your reference and your entertainment:

Relative Odds
Possible Events Odds of Occuring
Being Audited by the IRS 175 to 1
Writing a New York Times Bestseller 220 to 1
Dating a Supermodel 88,000 to 1
Being Struck by Lightning 576,000 to 1
Getting a Royal Flush on the First Five Cards Dealt 649,740 to 1
Winning the California Lottery 13,000,000 to 1
Dying from a Shark Attack 300,000,000 to 1
Having a Meteor Land on Your House 182,138,880,000,000 to 1

Update: I should have done this earlier, but the odds calculated by Stefan Sharkansky at Sound Politics of having the 59 vote "flip" is 32,258,064,516,129 to 1, which is roughly about six times more likely than having a meteor land on your house....

23 December 2004

The latest news coming from the governor's race in Washington state is extremely disconcerting. As noted by Stefan Sharkansky of Sound Politics in his December 22, 2004 entry Ukranian Roulette, the near impossible has happened (emphasis mine):

47 votes were "corrected" and awarded to Christine Gregoire
12 votes were "corrected" and taken from Dino Rossi.

Net result Gregoire: +59!

This is analogous to flipping a coin 59 times and getting tails every single time. In this case, the coin was biased towards tails to begin with. Nevertheless, the probability of this happening, I calculate, is 3.1x10-14.

What I find particularly chilling in this development is that it appears to me that the King County Democratic Party strategy appears to have been expanded from just turning up ballots in favor of Christine Gregoire to also include suppressing ballots previously counted for Dino Rossi. No matter how you slice it, this is not a good development, and the public's trust in the post-election process can only be further diminished from this point forward.

The immediate question though lies in the 735 uncounted ballots in Washington's King County, which the Washington State Supreme Court ruled should be included in the recount. After adjusting the Washington State Governor's Race Calculator with the new numbers (sourced from above, the Washington State Secretary of State's recount website had not yet been updated with the reported results), Rossi will need to win 50.75% of the uncounted vote in order to win by one vote. Gregoire, on the other hand, will need to win 49.39% of the uncounted vote to win by a margin of just one vote. Considering that the uncounted ballots are from King County, which supported Gregoire over Rossi by a 57.6% to 40.0% margin, the likely outcome strongly favors Gregoire.

I knew I should have asked for a copy of Hugh Hewitt's last book for Christmas....

P.S. See Pull on Superman's Cape for more up-to-date commentary. Along with Josef's Public Journal and Sound Politics (linked above), these are the indispensible sites of the recount.

21 December 2004

We're almost to the end of the year, and here at Political Calculations, that means developing new tools for the hot topics of 2005! Here's a short list of what to expect in coming weeks:

  • A first look at your 2005 paycheck.

  • Your investment returns from Social Security.

  • More Election 2004 recount wrapup.

  • More tweaks to get the look and feel of the blog right.

And that brings me to a personal request - if you've developed your own political "back of the envelope" calculations that you think would be a good fit here, please let me know. Give me a heads-up by commenting to this post, and let's get a discussion started about bringing your knowledge online. Just don't ask me about that equation on the envelope graphic on Donald Crankshaw's blog - I'm sure it has something to do with electrical engineering, and as a hard-working mechanical engineer, I can't say as that I believe in that sort of thing....

14 December 2004

Who knew?! When I published the Simple Majority Calculator earlier today, I had no idea that there still was a governor's race in Washington where some 561 votes in King County had been "discovered" and could still impact the outcome of the race. (Hat Tip: Real Clear Politics.)

In the calculator below, I have already plugged in the results of the machine recount that had already been completed, and shown the additional 561 votes in the "Other" category. If these numbers need updating, please do so - after reviewing how this race has gone, I don't think I could keep up....

Update: I have adjusted the calculator with the latest numbers (as of 3:03 PM PST on December 15, 2004) from the Washington Secretary of State's Recount web site. I have also increased the number of "other" ballots to 645. (Hat Tip: Jim Geraghty at NRO's Kerry Spot. Those looking for the latest should visit Sound Politics for other developments as they unfold. As before, you're free to update the calculator with more current numbers as they arrive.

Update 2: Readjusted the calculator with the latest recount numbers (as of 4:23 PM PST on December 15, 2004) and the "other" category to 573 (Hat Tip: Sound Politics.)

Update 3: New day (December 16, 2004 at 4:03 PM PST), new numbers.... For more blogging, see Pull on Superman's Cape, Josef's Public Journal and Hamilton's Pamphlets.

Update 4: We're nearing sanity in this race. This will be the last update until all results are finally final. In the meantime, I'm increasing the "other" uncounted ballot count to 735, because, well, what if?

Update 5: Updated numbers to correspond to new post.

Raw Vote Data
Input Data Values
Votes Counted for Dino Rossi
Votes Counted for Christine Gregoire
Uncounted Absentee Ballots
Uncounted Provisional Ballots
Other Uncounted Ballots

Votes and Percentage Breakdowns
Calculated Results Values
Total Vote Count
Votes Needed to Win a Simple Majority
Percentage of Uncounted Votes Needed for Rossi to Win
Percentage of Uncounted Votes Needed for Gregoire to Win

Comments on how to interpret the results may be found with my previous post.

In the days following the November 2, 2004 U.S. election, I set up a simple spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel to work out just what percentage of the uncounted votes either George W. Bush or John Kerry would need to be able to claim victory in Ohio. It was such a simple tool that it immediately leapt out as being a natural fit for this blog - even with the 2004 election over, it can easily be modified to accommodate other political races, meaning lots of future use here for races of interest.

Uncounted Vote Frustration

Instead, developing this tool has been a complete pain in the you-know-what on account of the Kerry campaign's continued drive to count questionable ballots in Ohio. (Editor's note: If it isn't already, Captain Ed's blog is well deserving of a place of privilege in your blogroll.) Every time I think I have the web-friendly version of my calculator finished, along come the Kerry people with another set of unmarked, mismarked, and even properly marked ballots that they want to have counted, recounted or otherwise included in the previously certified vote totals. With any luck, they'll accept reality soon (but I won't believe it until I see it....)

I've dealt with the ongoing shenanigans by providing for three categories of uncounted votes: absentee, provisional and other. (One development version also included categories for spoiled ballots, overvotes, undervotes and fraudulent ballots, but as more time went by, "other" seemed a better solution.) I could go on, but to make a long story short, I am finally happy to present:

The Simple Majority Calculator

Keeping in mind that this tool is still subject to change due to the issues discussed above, here is the first released version of my Simple Majority Calculator. What it does is really simple - it starts with the votes that have already been counted for the given candidates for an elective office, then it adds those numbers to the total number of estimated votes cast that are still uncounted, then it figures out how many votes it takes to win a clear, simple majority as well as what percentage of the uncounted votes a candidate would have to receive in order to win. Simply enter the known or estimated values in the appropriate fields in the input table and click the "Calculate" button to get the results.

Raw Vote Data
Input Data Values
Votes Counted for the Republican Candidate
Votes Counted for the Democratic Candidate
Uncounted Absentee Ballots
Uncounted Provisional Ballots
Other Uncounted Ballots

Votes and Percentage Breakdowns
Calculated Results Values
Total Vote Count
Votes Needed to Win a Simple Majority
Percentage of Uncounted Votes Needed for the Republican to Win
Percentage of Uncounted Votes Needed for the Democrat to Win

Interpreting the Results

  1. If a candidate has a negative percentage, it means that they can actually have votes taken away from their totals and still be able to win a simple majority in the election. In other words, the likely winner.
  2. If a candidate has a percentage that is greater than 100%, it means they cannot win a simple majority, or rather, they are the likely loser.
  3. If both candidates have percentages that are greater than 0% but less than 100%, the race is up for grabs, although polling data may be used to anticipate the likely winner.

While not a perfect tool, the Simple Majority Calculator does offer some insight into how the uncounted vote totals have to break in order for a given candidate to win office. Improved, and more timely versions will follow in the future.

10 December 2004

Writing in his WorldNetDaily column, Do the Math, Hugh Hewitt has issued a challenge for MSM "journalists" to measure the impact their writing has in the ongoing discussion of national issues versus the impact that bloggers have, as measured by actual readership.

My guess is that Hugh's challenge for MSM is unlikely to go far. In my experience, most journalists have trouble doing even simple math, such as counting the number of newspapers they sell to their subscribers. Expecting them to do real math that would involve advanced concepts such as adding and subtracting could well make their heads explode.

So, to avoid leaving a nasty mess for the janitor to clean up, I'm offering the following tool for the typical MSM columnist to compare their total actual readership for a given column versus that of a blogger to be determined by the user. Here's how it make it work:

  1. Enter the number of copies of the column in print. We'll be generous here and assume the circulation number issued by the various MSM print venues that carry the column are real.
  2. Enter the percentage of people who actually read the column in print (this eliminates the people who use the print edition for dog training or to wrap fish. (Editor's note: Yes, I am picking on the LA Times here. They deserve it.) This information should be available from your publisher's marketing department or, not coincidentally I might add, from the people who negotiate your syndication contract.
  3. Enter the number of times that your column is viewed online by individual (or unique) readers. This information is available from your webmaster or your information technology department, who have access to analysis tools like WebTrends that can provide the number for you.

Next, it's time to visit your competition, which you'll need to do twice, once just before your column is published, and once a day later. Many bloggers simply place a hit-counter on their website, which makes the job easy. Take these numbers, and enter them in the appropriate boxes below.

Now, you just need to click the "Do the math for me" button to see how you compare. As John Kerry would say, "bon chance!"

Input Data for the Columnist
Total number of printed copies of column
Percentage of actual readers (%)
Total Number of Individual or Unique Online Readers

Input Data for the Blogger
Before - Number of Blogger Site Visits
After - Number of Blogger Site Visits

Calculated Values
Estimated Total Number of MSM Columnist Readers
Total Number of Blogger Site Visits

Obviously, whoever has the larger number of total readers wins, and is far more likely to wield greater real influence.

06 December 2004

Welcome and thank you for visiting! The Political Calculations blog is nothing less than the electronic outlet of my desire to provide tools for people who want to see how the world of politics affects the bottom line in their lives. Along the way, I hope to use this forum to explore and to expand just what is possible in the world of blogging.

That said, my posting will never be as frequent as some might like, since the tools I bring to the table take time to develop. If you combine that work with real life commitments, well, you get the idea.... Still, if I do my job right, you'll spend more time with this blog than many others - and that's a challenge I just can't pass up.

About Political Calculations

Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

ironman at politicalcalculations

Thanks in advance!

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