Ben CalhounThis election cycle, it wasn't strange for voters to have to wait for races to be called. Seems like there were so many squeakers. Among the squeakiest, still unresolved a month after the election, North Carolina's 9th congressional district. The district is this long stretch of eight counties along the state's southern border. It's so gerrymandered, it looks like a hockey stick.
In that district, a Republican former Baptist pastor named Mark Harris narrowly beat his Democratic opponent. The Democrat was this Boy Scouty, former Marine named Dan McCready. The margin of victory in that race-- 905 votes-- crazy close, but a win.
Until the North Carolina State Board of Elections had a meeting-- the board is four Democrats, four Republicans, one unaffiliated member-- and the board decided in a bipartisan unanimous vote not to approve the results in the ninth congressional district.
Michael BitzerThat late Tuesday afternoon decision by the board not to certify the ninth really kind of sent shockwaves through the state.
Ben CalhounThis is Michael Bitzer, PolySci professor at Catawba College in North Carolina.
Michael BitzerTo say, this is something that looks pretty serious.
Ben CalhounTrouble in River City.
Ben CalhounBitzer says he can't remember this ever happening before. It turns out, behind this bipartisan emergency break-throwing-- voter fraud allegations, specifically funny business with mail-in absentee ballots. So Bitzer did what PolySci professors do in a crisis like this. He dove into the data, downloaded it from the state. And in it, he saw one thing that didn't look like the others.
One county, Bladen county, only 19% of the people voting by mail were registered Republicans. But among the mail-in ballots, the Republican candidate got 61% of the vote. Mathematically, this just seems super unlikely. He'd have to win all the Republicans, and all the independents, and some Democrats.
Normally, professors quantify how unusual something is in statistics, standard deviation and that kind of thing. But I have trouble following that.
Ben CalhounIf you were Luke Skywalker in this situation, how big was the disturbance in the force?
Ben CalhounFor those slightly less nerdy than Professor Bitzer and myself, that's the planet that gets destroyed by the Death Star.
Ben CalhounThe destruction of a planet?
Michael BitzerYes. And just eyeballing it, this is not normal.
Ben CalhounSo Bitzer writes a blog post explaining what he was reading in the data that most people had not. Then it spreads rapidly through the internet. And then around the same time, news starts to trickle in.
There's stories of voters who say there were people coming and telling them to give them their mail-in absentee ballots before they filled them in. And they handed them over, and then they don't know what happened to their ballot.
Comments, observations and thoughts from two bloggers on applied statistics, higher education and epidemiology. Joseph is an associate professor. Mark is a professional statistician and former math teacher.
Thursday, December 13, 2018
At last, a political scientist protagonist
From This American Life:
Posted by Mark at 9:00 AM
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