Fribble Bush--Heads, Gore--Tails

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By Bill Preston
December 6, 2000

This election has come down to a coin toss, people. The "will of the people" be damned. All that high talk will not change what, in essence, we are about to do. We are about to pick a president based on random chance. A flip of a coin. A roll of the dice.

The current popular vote stands at:

Gore� � � � � 46,006,961

Bush� � � � � 45,908,360

Difference � � �  98,601
Total Votes:� �101,139,306 (for Gore, Bush, or Nader)

Nationally, that is a difference of 0.1%!!

As of 12/4/2000, the difference in Florida is down to 537 out of 6,000,000!! That's 0.009%!!

"Will of the people" adds such a moral flavor to the rationale of both sides, but any person from either side who claims their candidate is the winner does not care about "will of the people." They just want their guy to win. If they say they care, they are either lying or have no concept of what the term "margin of error" means.

Everyone should now be familiar with the term "margin of error," as it is reported along with any exit poll result. It's the "fuzzy math" area around all those reported numbers. Since the pollsters cannot possibly ask every single person who voted whom they voted for, any number reported is an estimate, at best. And estimates are, by definition... estimates. They are not the "actual" values -- they are best guesses.

Nevertheless, with statistics (that's the one right below "damn lies"), it can be determined how fuzzy those numbers are. If polling says George Bush received 48% of the vote, plus or minus (+/-) 4%, it means he could have actually received as low as 44% or as high as 52%. We have no way of knowing exactly what the real number is within that range, but it is almost certain it was not 40% or 60%, or even 43% or 53%. If one candidate gets 44% and another gets 50%, you do not know, you cannot know, who actually got more votes because the margins of error overlap.

So while polling is obviously only a guess, the actual counting of ballots is also just a guess. There are too many avenues for error -- human error, computer glitch, mechanical failure, not to mention all-out fraud and manipulation. The actual ballot count is still an estimate, and we simply don't know that margin of error either.

What's to be done? Flip a coin. Scissors, paper, rock. See which one can hold his breath under water the longest. (A couple bags of cement might help here.)

Or we could take an intelligent approach that many countries use. We could have a runoff. The two candidates with the most votes are voted for again. This eliminates third party "spoilers" and will more than likely give us a winner with more than a 50% majority of votes cast. The "will of the people" would prevail. No, this doesn't improve our choices, but it does give us a way to avoid this nonsense of haggling over two votes here, a couple over there, recount, recount, recount.

And if the runoff ends in a 50/50 tie again (within those margins of error that would need to be so carefully calculated)?

"OK, Al... heads or tails?"
"No way, George. Why are we automatically using your coin?"
"This isn't my coin. I got it from my brother, Jeb."
"Well, your little brother doesn't have the final say in these things."
"Oh, yeah. Whose coin do you want to use? Your buddy Bill's?"
"There's no need to get snippy about it...."