09 August 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project


Aleatory Obnubilation

A number of years ago—almost enough—there was a contested presidential election in the United States of America.  You may remember it!  Al Gore and George Bush in effect "tied" in Florida, which had the electoral votes to decide the election.  We know how it turned out, and the Democrats are still mad because the Republicans stole the election from them, instead of the other way around.  Then and now I've participated in a minor way in an internet discussion group that nominally is about music and a particular radio personality, but which often evolves or devolves into the usual political wrangling which seems inescapable on this type of group.  Its members are mostly "liberal" and tend to vote Democratic, but there is a leavening of Conservatives and Republicans, and one dyed-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist as well.  My posts are infrequent and rarely controversial; my political posts are nonexistent, with the exception of the one below.  I admit it:  I finally got tired of the interminable arguments about who "won" Florida, when clearly there was no winner.  I had to put in my two cents.  Here's what I wrote in December of 2000:

A Post from the Past

The phrase "margin of error greater than the margin of victory" was used, I believe verbatim, in the telling dissent of the Chief Judge of the Florida Supreme Court. If this was the case in this election, then what is the purpose of recounting the votes? It makes about as much sense as saying that "let's decide this by tossing a coin" and then having the loser say "let's toss it again." And it would seem that this election was decided less by the "will of the people" or even the velleity of the undecided than it was by a transient thunderstorm over Wellington or perhaps aleatory obnubilation in Hollywood.

The Miami Herald did an interesting analysis of the vote and concluded, first that IF everybody had voted CORRECTLY and as he INTENDED, then Gore would have won by about 27,000 votes. Of course they didn't, and their second analysis concluded that, if the recount had been done in accordance with the order of Florida Supreme Court, the result would STILL have been a tossup. The Electoral College system greatly increases the odds that this sort of thing will happen, since even the smallest state can hold the election in the balance, and there are many more opportunities for close elections in fifty sub-elections than in one national election. Short of attaining perfection in the mechanics of voting it will likely happen again.

One reassuring thought, despite the partisan diatribe here: 50 per cent of the eligible voters didn't; four per cent threw their votes away on minority candidates, and roughly 23 per cent voted for Bush. That leaves 23 per cent who voted for Gore. Subtract maybe five per cent, who made up their minds at the last minute and had only a "weak preference." This leaves only 18 per cent of the eligible voters who arguably have a complaint about the outcome.

How did they all end up on this digest?


I understand that there's a game involving Google played by people with too much spare time.  The goal is to find a phrase that shows up once and only once in the search results.  I think there may be one above.  Give it a try after a few days.

© 2006
Richard Factor