Exit Poll Versus Reported Vote Count
By Theodore de Macedo Soares
Election results from the computerized vote counts of the 2020 Michigan Democratic Party presidential primary differed significantly from the results projected by the exit poll conducted by Edison Research and published by CNN at poll’s closing. The large discrepancies greatly exceeded the margin of error for the exit poll projected differences between candidates. In this election candidate Sanders underperformed his exit poll projected proportions by 15.4%. Sanders consequently received 105,000 less votes than projected while others (mainly Biden and Bloomberg) received 111,000 more than projected by the exit poll. Of concern is Michigan’s destruction of the ballot images, that could have been used to greatly facilitate a recount, that were created by their scanners for their counts. This destruction appears to violate both federal and state laws.
This large vote shift is made more remarkable by the fact that Edison Research had almost an hour’s access to Michigan’s rapidly accumulating vote totals from almost the entirety of the state that closed an hour earlier than the small sliver in the central time zone, to alter, as is their normal practice, the exit poll to conform to the vote totals. After this hour’s adjustments the exit poll used herein was published. Undoubtedly candidate’s Sanders exit poll proportion was much larger than the proportion first published and Biden’s much less. Conceivably, given the large discrepancy remaining after alteration, the pre-adjusted original exit poll may have shown a Sanders’ win.
The same can be said for Sanders’ and Biden’s vote-count-adjusted exit polls for Texas, New Hampshire, and next Tuesday, Florida. Unless Edison or others release the unadjusted exit polls for these and other states with dual time zones, U.S. citizens will never know the original exit poll’s projected proportions of votes for each candidate. This is unfortunate as these same citizens will also never know with any degree of certainty the actual proportion of votes cast for each candidate as they were counted by unobservable computers.
It was to protect the trust in its elections that the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany ruled in 2009 that all important aspects of an election must be observable and its citizens able to witness the counting of their ballots. Now, due to this ruling all counting is done by hand in the same precincts in which they were cast and in view of the public. With the same concerns most major technologically advanced democracies in the world protect the trust in their elections with hand-counted ballots.
In Michigan, the combined discrepancies between the exit poll and the vote count for candidates Sanders and Biden totaled 7.5%, much larger than the 4.6% margin of error for the exit poll difference between the two. These same discrepancies between Sanders and Bloomberg totaled 10.2% about four times the margin of error at 2.5%. All margin of errors calculated at 95% confidence interval (CI). See table note 5. Values greater than the margin of error are considered statistically significant. The discrepancies in favor of Biden and Bloomberg substantially exceed the margin of error at 99% (CI).
The United States remains one of the few major democracies in the world that continue to allow computerized vote counting—not observable by the public—to determine the results of its elections.[i] Countries such as Germany,[ii] Norway, Netherlands, France,[iii] Canada,[iv] United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and many other countries protect the integrity and trust of their elections with publicly observable hand-counting of paper ballots.[v]
The common belief that the mere existence of paper ballots, allowing for a recount, lends reassurance to the voter, is in practice without foundation. If the computer system is suspected as the source of a possible miscount, obviously it would be improper to repeat this method and a hand-count made necessary. Even absent the necessity for litigation, the costs assessed by the state for such a recount would be prohibitive to the petitioner.
Many states, such as Michigan, use scanners to make images of the ballot that are then counted by computers. Approximately 80% of U.S. jurisdictions use such image-creating scanners. These images easily aggregated and disseminated would immensely facilitate recounts. According to trusted sources Michigan’s Secretary of State ordered all precincts to disable the default setting in the machines to save these images.
The reason given is that such image retention would pose a delay in the processing of votes and that the paper ballots are a sufficient record. All federal-election materials are required under federal and state laws to be preserved for at least 22 months. As it is the images and not the actual ballots that were counted, their destruction appears to violate federal and state laws.
Inquiries may be made to Michigan’s Secretary of State. For the important elections occurring next Tuesday, particularly in Florida, with dual time zones and less reliable exit polls resulting from the incorporation of Florida’s machine counts, inquiries may be made to the Secretary of State of these and other states.
Although the retention of such
images is invaluable in facilitating recounts, in practice the only count that really
matters is the first one. As in all other major democracies this first count, if
the U.S. wishes to engender trust in its elections, must be done by hand.
 Exit poll (EP) downloaded from CNN’s website by TDMS on election night, March 10, 2020 at 9:00 PM ET. Candidates’ exit poll percentage/proportion derived from the gender category. Number of EP respondents: 1,685. Exit poll proportions rounded to nearest integer as appropriate for data derived from whole integers. As this first published exit poll was subsequently adjusted towards conformity with the final computerized vote count, the currently published exit poll differs from the exit poll used here and available through the link below.
 Candidates’ percentage/proportion of the total computer-generated vote counts derived from reported counts (99% reporting). Published by The New York Times. Total number of voters: 1,585,360.
 The difference between the exit poll proportion and reported vote proportion for each candidate (subtracting values in column two from the values in column three). A positive value indicates the candidate did better and received a greater share of the total reported count than projected by the exit poll. For example, candidate Sanders, reported percentage/proportion of the total vote decreased by 6.6% compared to his exit poll share.
 This column shows the percentage increase or decrease from the candidate’s exit poll projection (difference in column four divided by exit poll proportion in column two). This value is used to show how many more or less votes the candidate received than projected by the exit poll. Shown only for candidates with 4% or more share in the exit poll.
 This column presents a distinct Margin of Error (MOE) of the exit poll (EP) for the differences between candidate Biden and each of the other candidate’s EP results. The exit poll MOE, for example, between Biden and Sanders is 4.6%. For simplicity MOE not shown for candidates with less than 4% share in the EP. MOE calculated at 95% CI according to multinomial formula in: Franklin, C. The ‘Margin of Error’ for Differences in Polls. University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin. October 2002, revised February 2007. Available at: https://abcnews.go.com/images/PollingUnit/MOEFranklin.pdf
 The disparities between the exit poll and the reported computer-generated vote counts comparing Biden and Bloomberg with each of the other candidates (subtracting each candidate’s difference between exit poll and computer count from Biden’s and Bloomberg’s differences of 0.9% and 3.6% respectively. Disparities between Sanders and Biden are much larger than their MOE. Between Bloomberg and Sanders, they are four times their MOE. These disparities are significant as they cannot be attributed to the MOE.
[i] Fittingly, according to a recent Gallup World Poll, only 40% of Americans say they are confident in the honesty of U.S. elections. Finland and Norway with 89% of their citizens expressing confidence in the honesty of their elections along with the citizens of 25 other countries have greater confidence in their elections than do Americans.
[ii] In 2009 the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany ruled that every important aspect of an election must be observable by the public and thus “meet the constitutional requirements of the principle of the public nature of elections.” No amount of machine testing, security requirements, and licensing procedures can compensate for the constitutional requirement that “the essential steps of the electoral procedure being examined by the citizens.” And “trust in the regularity of the election [can] only [be realized] by the citizens themselves being able to reliably retrace the voting.”
The court also noted that while vote fraud with hand-counted ballots would be easy to detect, “programming errors in the software or deliberate electoral fraud committed by manipulating the software of electronic voting machines can be recognized only with difficulty.”
[iii] During the 2007 presidential election, eighty-three municipalities (France has 36,569 municipalities) were allowed to use voting machines. Due to security concerns and the inability of voters to determine if their votes are counted correctly a moratorium, that remains today, prevents additional municipalities from introducing voting machines. In the 2012 elections only 64 municipalities continued their use. The French government desires a total ban on their use.
[v] The United States’ long ballots–containing federal, state, and local races–are commonly cited as being unwieldy for hand-counting. The use of Sweden’s method of providing different colored paper ballots for federal, state, and local races that are then sorted prior to hand-counting addresses this objection and allows for at least the hand-counting of federal elections with only three races per ballot.
Edited March 31, 2020. Corrected margin of error set at 90% CI instead of 95% CI
Download Michigan 2020 Democratic Party Primary Exit Poll. Published by CNN at poll’s closing on election night.
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