Vote Darwin

The Georgia congressman who called evolution "lies straight from the pit of hell" won reelection Tuesday in an uncontested race. But 4000 of his constituents managed to find a write-in candidate they could believe in — the father of evolution, who has been dead for 130 years. (Via Jennifer Ouellette) Read the rest

Different names for the same thing: Visualizing the 2012 election

Did you know that there was a major American election on Tuesday? Great. Let us all never speak of it again. At least for the next 3.5 years.

But before we send the parts of our brains that care about politics off to recuperate at a nice imaginary spa, take a quick look at a page of election maps put together by University of Michigan physics professor Mark Newman. He studies complex systems, including the networks of human relationships and decision-making that go into election results. His page of maps shows several different ways to visualize the same 2012 presidential election data — methods which provide different pieces of context that you don't normally see in the simple state-by-state map.

The basic map — the one you see on TV and in the newspaper — doesn't really tell you the whole story. It gives you no idea of population density (a factor that obviously matters a lot in tallying the popular vote), and it only shows the winning party in each state. In reality, the vote is seldom all-Democrat or all-Republican. There's a gradient, no matter where you live.

The map above takes both those factors into account — distorting the country to make the more populous parts larger, and showing split turnouts in shades of purple.

See all Mark Newman's maps at his website

And here's his FAQ

Thanks, Rick Musser!

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That story about a woman whose vote was a tie-breaker? Totally a Popeye cartoon.

That story about a wife's tie-breaking vote? The plot of a Popeye cartoon from 1956.

Hell Night at Fox News

Richard Metzger at Dangerous Minds: "As a connoisseur of Republican schadenfreude, it was pretty obvious that Fox was the place to be on this election night." Read the rest

Puerto Rico sends United States a non-binding friend request

Amidst all the other election craziness last night, Puerto Ricans voted in favor of becoming the 51st U.S. state. Currently, Puerto Rico is a territory — they've got a non-voting rep in Congress, they don't pay taxes, and they get U.S. military protection and some social services. The results from last night don't actually change anything about that position, but they do put the ball in Congress' court. Puerto Rico wants to be a state. Now it's up to Congress to decide what to do about that. (Via Aaron Olsen) Read the rest

Particle physicists not yet willing to call the election for Obama

Sure, there's a 99.2% probability that he will win, but that is several standard deviations away from the 99.99995% confidence that the particle physicists would need to declare the election won. (This is satire, obviously.) Via Jennifer Ouellette. Read the rest

Electoral College college

It's time for some American Democracy 101. Every election cycle, it frustrates me to no end that most news outlets spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the latest polls without explaining the significance those polls actually have on the outcome of a presidential election that isn't truly decided by the voters. My Halloween wish this year was for someone to explain the electoral college to me, and Twin Cities journalist Frank Bures has obliged*.

This piece has actually been around since 2000, but I think it's a nice explanation of what the electoral college is, where it comes from, and why it's going to matter to you tonight.

The only votes that count in this election will be cast in mid-December by the 538 members of the electoral college. That's who you and I will vote for on November 7: electors for Bush or electors for Gore, and their votes are the currency of presidential politics. Each state gets as many electors as it has representatives and senators. In all but two states, the winning party takes all the state's electoral votes.

...At first, in several states, there was no popular presidential vote. For decades after 1787, in states like Delaware, New York, and Georgia, the legislatures chose the electors. In South Carolina, there was no popular vote for the chief executive until 1860. But today, party loyalty prevents electors from acting as the free agents envisioned by the founders. In 99% of the cases, the electoral vote is a formality.

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Voting expert tells The Awl: There are reasons to be concerned about voting machines, but vast conspiracies aren't one of them

Tagg Romney doesn't own Ohio's voting machines. And Joseph Lorenzo Hall, senior staff technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology in D.C., says that a lot of the fears the public has about electronic voting are equally unfounded. The biggest thing to worry about, he tells The Awl's Maria Bustillos, is that we're so busy sending around email forwards about ostensible vast conspiracies that we're not paying enough attention to the very real security and tech problems that do exist in the voting system.

Maria Bustillos: I no longer know what to believe in media reports of electronic election tampering. What are professionals most worried about, at this point, in this election?

Joseph Lorenzo Hall: It's a very complex area and unfortunately one that lends itself to dearths of information and poor intuition… which is how Bello and Fitrakis get way out into left field. Extending email/fax voting to displaced NJ voters is making us very nervous… What I think we expect to see a lot of—and it's not as sexy as conspiracy theory—is the aging of this machinery, as much of it is 10- to 15-year-old computer equipment. Another not-so-sexy source of problems will be from newer online voter registration systems, an electronic version of pollbooks. We may see strange reports of people not being registered or being marked down as already voted. Much of that will seem to some like fraud, but it is more likely poorly checked voter registration rolls. People don't like having to cast provisional ballots, but they need to understand that if you're registered and at the right location, the ballot will count.

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What Nate Silver is actually telling you about the election

The election is next week. And, with that in mind, Salon's Paul Campos has posted a helpful reminder explaining what the statistics at the fivethirtyeight blog actually mean (and what they don't).

In particular, you have to remember that, while Nate Silver gives President Obama a 77.4 percent chance of winning the presidential election, that's not the same thing as saying that Obama is going to win.

Suppose a weather forecasting model predicts that the chance of rain in Chicago tomorrow is 75 percent. How do we determine if the model produces accurate assessments of probabilities? After all, the weather in Chicago tomorrow, just like next week’s presidential election, is a “one-off event,” and after the event the probability that it rained will be either 100 percent or 0 percent. (Indeed, all events that feature any degree of uncertainty are one-off events – or to put it another way, if an event has no unique characteristics it also features no uncertainties).

The answer is, the model’s accuracy can be assessed retrospectively over a statistically significant range of cases, by noting how accurate its probabilistic estimates are. If, for example, this particular weather forecasting model predicted a 75 percent chance of rain on 100 separate days over the previous decade, and it rained on 75 of those days, then we can estimate the model’s accuracy in this regard as 100 percent. This does not mean the model was “wrong” on those days when it didn’t rain, any more than it will mean Silver’s model is “wrong” if Romney were to win next week.

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Joss Whedon bets on Romney -- to lead us into the zombie apocalypse

Because Romney's policies are actually perfect for setting the stage for a "nightmare zombie wasteland."

The science of debate strategy

In preparation for tonight's American presidential debate, please enjoy this Science Friday piece on the social psychology involved in successfully dodging a question. How do politicians slip into answering the questions they want to answer, instead of the ones you asked? What can you do to be more aware when this is happening? Read the rest

Mitt Romney does not understand how one creates a "dirty bomb"

Mother Jones today published a second part of the video secretly recorded at a Mitt Romney fundraiser in Boca Raton. The first bombshell will forever be known as "47 percent," but the portion getting attention today focuses on a response the Republican presidential candidate gave to a question about the Israel/Palestine peace process. The tl;dr there: he doesn't believe it'll happen, and intends to "kick the ball down the road" and let the next administration deal with it, or something like that.

But here's a derpworthy moment in the video that may be of interest to science fans, and people who have actually done some reporting on how so-called "dirty bombs" work.

Here's a transcript for the relevant portion of the video:

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The Saturday Night Live primetime election specials will make a comeback -- whose momentum will it ruin this year?

NBC has announced that, as they did four years ago, Saturday Night Live would make an early return to the airwaves to tackle the presidential election. Two primetime specials were announced for September 20 and September 27 (both Thursdays), and while we know that Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg have left the show, will Jason Sudeikis delay his departure to play Mitt Romney? Or will Romney actually show up?

But more importantly: It was the SNL specials four years ago that shed a different kind of spotlight on then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin by way of a devastating (and Emmy-winning) impression by accidental doppelgänger Tina Fey. Will the SNL writers and performers duplicate the skewering commentary from 2008 with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney? And who is going to come out of this looking worse? Read the rest