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Subject:  Elections - Margin of Error Date:  11/19/2020  11:00 AM
Author:  albaby1 Number:  2337279 of 2381073

At another law firm, I had a colleague who practiced election law. He participated (on the GOP side) in the litigation regarding the Florida count in the 2000 election, was on the Bush v. Gore legal team, and has done a fair amount of election law since.

One time, we had a conversation about elections, and he told me something fascinating. We were talking about a hand-count in one of our local elections. He pointed out that there is a margin of error not just in polling, but also the elections themselves.

There is a margin of error in counting large numbers of things. When you count them, you will almost always have errors. Small errors, but errors nonetheless. If you have around a million jellybeans, and you try to count them, you will almost certainly be wrong in your count. You'll get a number that's different than the actual number of jellybeans - and if you count them a second time, you'll almost certainly get a number that's different from the first count, and probably (still) the wrong number. And that's with one person doing one count - if you have many multiple people doing different (partial) counts of different portions of the jellybean pile, you'll get errors.

That's why there are always minor discrepancies in the election process, and why they don't necessarily mean fraud has taken place. There were 6.8 million votes cast in the Pennsylvania election. So imagine if those votes were 6.8 million marbles, colored red and blue. Those marbles get put by voters in one of about 1,100 jars around the state (roughly the number of polling places). You have a person counting the number of marbles placed in the jars at the time they're put in; you have a second person counting the total number of marbles in the jar at the end of election day; and you have a third person counting the total number each of red and blue marbles in the jar. Except for the jars with very small numbers of marbles, you will certainly have many instances where the counts don't match. And if you recount all the jars, not only will you still get instances where the counts don't match, you will also end up with different numbers than the first time.

And that's one reason why election laws are the way they are - why you can't simply invalidate an election or claim fraud based on these types of mismatches. They are inherent in the process of having human beings count very large numbers of things.

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