Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Why Kerry conceded: an analysis of Ohio

Earlier today Kerry called the White House to concede the election. According to CNN,

A Kerry adviser said the campaign had concluded that the too-close-to-call battleground state of Ohio was not going to come through for the Democrats.

The adviser said there was no way to gain votes on Bush without an "exhaustive fight," something that would have "further divided this country."

Slightly disingenuous. Realistically, Kerry might have gained votes on Bush, or he might have lost votes, if the provisional and absentee ballots were counted. And it is virtually impossible for Kerry to have gained enough votes to swing the state, or even to trigger a statewide recount.

Here's why--Kerry would have to accomplish the virtually impossible task of winning over 90% of the provisional votes. The analysis follows.

With 100% of precincts reporting (but not the absentee or provisional ballots), the Ohio results are:

  • Bush, 2,796,147 votes, 51.01%
  • Kerry, 2,659,664 votes, 48.52%
Bush's margin is roughly 137,000 votes. If the margin is no greater than a quarter of one percent of the vote, it triggers an automatic recount. (The current margis is about 2.5%.) If Kerry were determined to fight this out, he would have to count on the absentee and provisional ballots bringing the him into range for a recount (roughly a 14,000 vote margin). Kerry would need to make up 123,000 votes (137,000 minus 14,000) to trigger the recount. This seems implausible.

Kerry could make up the votes through absentee ballots and provisional ballots. Since the absentee ballots include overseas military personnel, I suspect they will not give Kerry a substantive boost. That leaves the provisional ballots to make up Kerry's deficit.

I estimate that Ohio issued 152,000 provisional ballots. The Ohio Secretary of State has a listing of provisional ballots issued by county here (link via Captain Ed). The total is 135,149, but 10 of the 88 counties have no data as I write this post. (The Ohio Secretary of State's office confirmed via telephone that they are still working on pulling together the data for some counties.) The 78 counties with data (including, by the way, heavily populated and heavily Democratic Cuyahoga county) average 1732.7 provisional ballots per county. If we extend that ratio to the remaining 10 counties, that adds 17,327 ballots to the statewide total for a new total of roughly 152,000.

For argument's sake, I will make the friendliest assumption for the Kerry camp (though not a plausible assumption) that all the provisional ballots are deemed eligible for counting. In that case Kerry would need to make up 123,000 votes out of the 152,000 provisional votes. That means Kerry would have to win the provisional vote count by 137,500 to 14,500, which would mean winning 90% of the provisional votes.

Thus, if every provisional ballot were judged eligible for counting, Kerry would need to accomplish the virtually impossible task of winning 90% of the provisional votes, just to trigger a recount. (Note that triggering a recount still would not assure Kerry a victory by any means.) If, as is likely, fewer than 100% of the provisional ballots were deemed eligible to be counted, Kerry would need to win even more than 90% of the provisional vote.

Kerry seems to have looked at these numbers and decided he had no shot. Hence the concession.

Of course, some hard-core Kerry supporters use somewhat different numbers to arrive at a very different conclusion. A bit of starry-eyed Democratic optimism:

It's not over in Ohio. As this email notes:

Bush is currently leading in Ohio by 136,221

If there are 250,000 provisional ballots outstanding. The highest number I've seen.

And 90% of those ballots are good, as they were in 2000. That leaves 225,000 votes.

If 85% of those ballots prove to be for Kerry, about the number that Gore got in 2000. That leaves us with 191,250, giving us a lead of 55,029.

If there are only 200,000 provisionals, following the same calculation would leave us with a lead of 16,779.

If the provisional ballots are only 175,000 that leaves us with a deficit of -2,346 that will leaves us in a position to get an automatic statewide recount.

Or, to put it another way, an automatic recount is triggered by a margin of 0.25% or between 13,000 and 16,000 votes.