Category Archives: Michigan elections

Election 2008 and the internet: lessons learned

Two days after the election, and enough of the aftermath and peak traffic of the day has settled so that we can learn a few lessons from what happened.

0. Party in the streets!

Shawn Smith captured this moment in Ann Arbor.

1.  Design for infinite traffic.

Election reporting is perhaps the best reason to look at cloud computing as a system for dealing with peak load needs.  Demand for election information is very intense for a few hours, and then goes away.  Any system that you build that involves a stack of your own equipment sitting in some machine room is going to be too big for most of the time, and then too small when you need it most.

As an example, the fancy maps from Twitter Vote Report were down mid-day, but came back up when they reconfigured the site. 

RT networkredux "@votereport increase to 8 3.0Ghz cores on the primary web VM seemed to steady things a bit."

As another example, Nate Silver's is hosted on Google's Blogger platform.  How many cores did that site run on?  As many as Google had available for the task.  And when push came to shove, Blogger wasn't up to the task at the heat of the moment either.

We're here and trying to publish, just can't.  They can't handle the traffic.  Sorry everybody.

Election night is an enormously busy night; if there was ever a time to design for one day of traffic, this is it.  I'm not sure how you can budget for infinite demand.

2.  In 2008, every page is about the elections.

Whether it's internet advertising, campaign coverage, partisan bickering, technology development, or just reporting on what's going on around town, it seems like every page on the whole Internet was about the elections.  It reminded me eerily of 1999, when every page was about the Year 2000, and a legion of programmers was employed fixing things; will the end of the 2008 campaign ad spend (projected at $17 million online) lead to the end of the web 2.0 era?

3.  Sending "I voted" to your network gets your network to vote.

I don't know this for sure; it's hard to tell from anecdotal reports, but my sense is that people who are using systems like Facebook and Twitter which make it easy to report that they voted are more likely to get their friends to vote. 

Facebook in particular made this easy with the Causes application that let you "donate your status message" in advance to pre-scheduled reminders to your friends to vote.  This get out the vote effort was given front page status with a rolling ticker on election day.  Causes recorded 1.7 million voters, who voted 70% to 21% for Obama, and now they know at least as much as any exit poll ever did.

Seth Godin writes more on this topic.

4.  There are problems with voting systems everywhere.

The sad conclusion of watching Twitter and #votereport for a few hours makes it clear that as voting turnout increases, the chances for things to go wrong go up.  Whether it's inadequate support at polling places leading to long lines, bad line control putting people in the wrong line to vote, or problems with ballots or machines, it's easy to find people who ran into snags and snafus.

Andrew Turner posts a recap of the amazing vote reports that the #votereport project gathered – both good stories and bad about how things worked.  There's a lot more to learn from that project and they have an awesome dataset to look at for review of where things went wrong (and where they went right).

5.  Practice makes perfect.

I voted using the Accumark system.  It was mostly painless, helped in large part by having done it enough times that I knew what was likely to fail.  The poll worker there knew that I needed to tear off the strip on top of the ballot before feeding it into the marking machine – the simple solution to most of the reported problems with the device – in part because this was my third time through this same precinct with the same voting machine and we figured it out before.

6.  (something about polls)

Nate Silver at is still going over the differences between poll data and actual vote counts, but it's clear: there's a widespread, systematic, and unpredictable difference between what people say they are going to do to pollsters and what they actually do in the voting booth.   FiveThirtyEight did an amazing job at correcting for systematic poll bias, but even with all that there were still a few surprises (Indiana?!?) where you just couldn't know.

A paper by Andrew Gelman and Nate Silver circulated in the afternoon of election day, on statistics and conditional probabilities, predicting Obama 99% if he wins Virginia based on scenario analysis.

7.  Prepare ahead of time

My Michigan Election Results page this year was easy to write because I had written the same page in previous elections, knew where the results would be, and knew crucially which search terms people would be using.  I made it relevant before results came in by posting where the election parties would be.  You know these things are going to happen because they happened before; there's no reason to need to scramble at the last minute to put something together.

Lessons learned from previous events, for better or worse:

Hurricane season – Gustav lessons learned
Disaster relief and reporting – the process of the "after action review" as derived from US Army practice
Aviation safety compared to computer security


Michigan 2008 election results

Here's a guide to election results for Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and the state of Michigan, with a few races around the Upper Peninsula added in.

Where to watch the results live:

County offices – the county clerk, Larry Kestenbaum, is hosting an election night at the county offices (Main and Ann) with vote reporting, food, local politicos, what passes for a press corps, and probably a few bloggers.  Starts at 8pm, non-partisan.  The Ann Arbor Chronicle was there, as were a number of candidates for local offices checking their vote totals.  Food: chicken wings, wraps.  Drink: diet lime Coca-Cola, decaf Coca-Cola.  No alcohol.

Arbor Brewing Company will have festivities; it's a Democratic Party kind of place.  Three rooms full of people, lots of smoke.  Beer.

Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti will have festivities; is also a Democratic Party kind of place.  Reports were that it was packed.  Beer.

Cafe Felix is hosting the event for the Drinking Liberally group.  Lots of happy people when the McCain concession speech happened.  Wine drinkers, "champagne toasts available".

GEO/LEO above Liberty Square.  Grad students and lecturers, very happy, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The Undergraduate Library on the U of Michigan campus has an event from 7pm-10pm with live data from the net plus Presidential Bingo, free coffee and snacks, and electoral maps you can color.

State Street on the U of Michigan campus had an impromptu parade at midnight for the Obama speech; State and Liberty was blocked off.  (I'm counting on the Michigan Daily to get a photo; here's their photo series on Flickr of the day's events.)

Good places to discuss local politics online:

Arbor Update will always have someone to take sides and is good with local news, in part because local politicians will regularly be found commenting.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle is spending the day visiting polling places. 

Larry Kestenbaum, county clerk and register of deeds for Washtenaw County, keeps us informed on his blog; he'll probably have a report when the dust settles.

The official sources:

Washtenaw County elections including the city of Ann Arbor: Washtenaw Votes.

The State of Michigan: Unofficial Michigan General Election Results from the sec'y of state.

Old media:

CNN has results on many but not all races.
MLive (Booth Newspapers, publisher of the Ann Arbor News) has totals on the front page.

Detroit News has totals for statewide races on the front page.

Detroit Free Press election coverage includes stories with reader comments.

New media:

Huffington Post has a page of election results trackers

FiveThirtyEight has been tracking polls all campaign season and will do play-by-play after the fact.

News aggregators:

YourStreet – Ann Arbor, MI: general Ann Arbor coverage, no separate politics/elections category

Outside In – Ann Arbor, MI elections: better and more focused coverage

Topix – Ann Arbor, MI: news, traffic, weather, and most anything else


This is as of 12:22am; I'm just taking notes on what's obvious right now and making links to what looks like the official results.  No where near all of the Michigan counties have reported in yet.

President: Obama projected to win Michigan handily; unofficial results incomplete.

Senate: Levin projected to win

House: 1st (UP) Stupak vs Casperson (official), WLUC-TV projects Stupak re-election

House: 15th (Washtenaw/Wayne) Dingell – can't imagine him losing

State Proposal 1: Medical marijuana (official), AP projects Prop 1 passes

State Proposal 2: Stem cell research (official), WOOD-TV (NBC) projects Prop 2 passes

Judge: Michigan Supreme Hathaway vs Taylor vs Roddis (official) – Detroit Free Press projects for Hathaway

Judge: District 25 Circuit Court (Marquette Co) Mazzuchi vs Koch (official), Mazzuchi leads 55-45 with 38 of 40 precincts counted

Judge: 15th District (Washtenaw County) Easthope vs Gutenberg (official), Easthope leads 52-47 with 42 of 48 counted

Community College: Washtenaw Community College millage (official) leading 67-33 with 73% counted.

There's more, but…there's a lot more.  You have enough links to find it.

#votereport – Ann Arbor voting reports via Twitter

Twitter is using an octothorpetag #votereport to mark voting reports today.  There's several systems downstream processing and mapping that data.  See e.g. (simple log), (map), and the Twitter vote report wiki (details for media and developers).

You can also get a pretty good point of view via Twitter just searching for the string Ann Arbor.

Here's reports as I've seen them so far this morning, times approx:

730am @mollyali: Couple hundred people in line @ pioneer high, ann arbor.
700am @CharismaArts: lines already out the door at pcnt 3-4 and 3-7 in ann arbor

700am @twbrandt:
Arrived at my polling place (Ann Arbor Twp hall) promptly at 7. Longest line I have ever seen

700am @jakewalker: Hundreds of students in line in ann arbor at 7am to #vote. Hundreds.

Throughout the day, the Ann Arbor Chronicle is reporting from the city's polling places.

The Ann Arbor News has a story about morning voting lines and waits, with the all-too-predictable snoozesque comment blather.

free on election day: a sample

I voted sticker from electionstickers.comsticker image from

There is no way on earth this is going to be complete, but here's something like a list.  comments welcomed.  here is an NPR story and interview with some background; some places require indication of voting, others will go on the honor system.

(didn't find anything special yet for Ann Arbor, but I'm sure there's something)

Krispy Kreme: free donut (via Budget Travel / Newsweek / New York)
Ben and Jerry's: free scoops 5p-8p (via New York)
Starbucks: free tall coffee (via srah)
SitterCity: free or discounted babysitting (new subscribers only)

Austin, TX: free bus rides on Capital Metro; free cab rides for seniors and the mobility impaired
Chicago, IL: free coffee from Metropolis Coffee
Fargo, ND: free bus and paratransit rides

CREDO Mobile: free calls

Automark problems – how to test, anticipate, and fix

Every year when I vote I use the Automark machines, which are designed for voters needing assistive voting technology at the polls.  At my polling place I seem to be the only person who ever uses them, so this is some way to do my bit of public service.

The last few times I have gone through this there have been problems.  The first time, I gave up and voted on a regular machine; the second time, I figured things out in time to vote with it.  This time I’m going to get it right (I hope).

A recap of problems from previous times:

from May 2008, Automark voting issues:

I got to the polling place a little bit earlier this time and tried
it again. It misbehaved the same way, but this time there was time to
figure it out, so the poll workers called in their expert who drove
over to help figure it out. The solution ended up to be very simple:
the detachable stub on the ballot must be detached before putting the
ballot into the machine, despite the very clear instructions on that
stub not to detach it, and with no visible instructions to detach it
anywhere on the AutoMARK machine.

I was able to find with some digging an AutoMARK Troubleshooting Guide,
which mentions two possible solutions: either remove the stub before
putting the ballot into the machine, or program the machine to
recognize the stub. I don’t know whether this stub length programming
is possible with the ballots we are using.

If the ballot has a stub,
the stub length may not
have been entered into the
election setup information.

Note that the system did work with the sample ballot tested by the
poll workers – but the sample ballot did not have a stub at the top!

Listing municipalties that are new to using AutoMARK is a huge catalog – this is just this season’s clipping report.

Centre County, Pennsylvania (Penn State):

Joyce McKinley, director of elections for Centre County, said voters
shouldn’t have any problems with the optical scan machines unless they
overvote or undervote.

Overvoting happens if the voter has chosen more candidates than
allowed, and undervoting is when voters choose fewer candidates than
allowed. In those instances, voters can choose to have the ballot
returned to them or accept the ballot as it is, McKinley said.

South Bend (St. Joseph County), Indiana (Notre Dame) (WSBT)

"We don’t know for sure that those votes are counted," said Indiana
University-South Bend Political Science Professor Dr. Elizabeth
Bennion. "And, in the case of a close race, it would be very difficult
to do any kind of a recount. So, I think there is real reason for

That "touch screen" technology is used to
"automark" specialized ballots filled out by those with special needs
in St. Joseph County. But the actual ballots aren’t tallied or counted
until the paper ballot marked by the machine is fed into the same
optical scanner used by all other voters, said St. Joseph County Clerk
Rita Glenn.

Saugus, MA (The Daily Item, Lynn MA)

SAUGUS-This November, the town will once again
set out AutoMARK Voter Assist Terminals at each polling place and, this
time, Town Clerk Joanne Rappa hopes someone other than the poll workers
will use them.

AutoMARK terminals allow voters with just about
any kind of handicap to cast their vote unaided in the polling
locations just like every other voter. The problem, Rappa said, is
while the town has had the machines since 2007 no one uses them. She
said she suspects they go unused for one of two reasons, people aren’t
aware the machines are available or don’t know how to use them.

South Dakota (KXMC via AP)

YANKTON, S.D. (AP)  Secretary of State Chris Nelson says a
problem that cropped up with touch-screen voting machines in the
2006 election won’t recur this year.

   States must have at least one touch-screen machine in each
polling place so people with visual or other disabilities can cast
their own ballot in secret.

   South Dakota‘s AutoMARK machines merely mark a paper ballot that
people review after they vote to ensure its accuracy.

   Nelson says there was a problem with the 17-inch-long ballots
that were used in 2006.

   This year, the ballots are 14 inches long, and Nelson says the
problem won’t happen again.

As always, vote early, and vote often.

Ann Arbor, Michigan sample ballot for November 4, 2008 presidential election

It's that time of year. 

Ballot information:

Washtenaw County's Washtenaw Votes site has complete details about precinct locations etc.

The State of Michigan's Web Voter Information Center will spit out your personal sample ballot, if you are registered in a particular place; there doesn't seem to be an easy way to get a sample ballot for an arbitrary location.

The City of Ann Arbor has a detailed page of voting information and a voting FAQ online. There's also a complete list of all of the candidates on the Ann Arbor city election part of the ballot, with email addresses and phone numbers of the candidates.

The Ann Arbor District Library has a voting information page up.

The League of Women Voters has a Michigan voter's guide.

Washtenaw County's Ballot Proofing site has exact PDF images of all of the ballots in the election for all of the wards and precincts, as they are sent to the printers – be aware that some of these files are very large (Ann Arbor ballots are 16 megabytes).  Here's what they cover:


Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Milan,Saline,Ypsilanti


Ann Arbor , Augusta ,Bridgewater, Dexter ,Freedom ,LimaLodiLyndonManchesterNorthfieldPittsfieldSalemSalineScioSharonSuperiorSylvanWebsterYorkYpsilanti

I'll link more examples as I can find them etc.

Cut and paste from the city of Ann Arbor's election PR:

ANN ARBOR, MI – October 27, 2008 – On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, 48 City of Ann Arbor
polling locations will be in operation from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the general election. Below are
important voter tips and Ward and Precinct polling location information. 
Voter Tips
• Voters should not wear buttons, t-shirts, or any visible apparel or signage that supports a
candidate into the polling places on Election Day as this is considered campaigning, which is not
allowed within 100 feet of a polling location. Voters who visibly display a candidate’s picture
or name will be asked to remove the material while standing in line or voting.
• Don’t forget to bring your photo ID to vote. Voters who do not have acceptable photo ID will be
required to sign an affidavit in order to vote.
• Peak voting hours are from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Voters who want to avoid long
lines are encouraged to vote during midday hours. 
• Polling place hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day. If you are standing in line by 8 p.m.
then you are eligible to vote.
• The City Clerk’s Office is still accepting applications for absentee ballots. The office is open to
the public for absentee ballot requests on Saturday, November 1, 2008 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. In-
person requests for absentee ballots will be accepted at the City Clerk’s Office, 2nd floor of City
Hall, until Monday, Nov. 3 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. 
• Ann Arbor Public Schools are closed on Election Day. Polling places located within schools
are open.  Signs will be posted at all polling locations to assist voters.
• A straight party vote will vote for all partisan candidates, including U.S. President. 
• Election Frequently Asked Questions can be viewed on the elections webpage on the City’s
website at  
• Verify your voter registration status or locate your polling location at
• Washtenaw County election results are televised on Community Television Network’s CitiTV
Channel 19 beginning at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008—after the polls close—and will
continue throughout the night. 
• Candidate and ballot language can be viewed at

Michigan Election Results for 2008 August primary election

UPDATE: Michigan election results for the November 2008 general election, if you came here from a search.

The polls have closed, and results are just starting to trickle in at 8:30pm. Here’s some places to look for data. (update: it’s the next day and the votes are tallied)

The Michigan Secretary of State has 2008 Unofficial Michigan Primary Election Results for all state-wide races, state senators and representatives, and judicial races. They also have links to Michigan primary election results by county connected to almost all of the county clerk sites maintained around the state.

In Washtenaw County, there’s a page with unofficial Washtenaw County election results for August 2008, including cumulative results and a breakdown by race. Notable contested races are the Democratic primary Washtenaw Sheriff election, and the 15th District Judge race. The Ann Arbor News has a roundup of results..

The Oakland County non-partisan and proposal ballot results include a proposal for a tax to support the zoo, which passed. The Detroit Free Press has complete 2008 August election results.

All of the 2008 Marquette County August primary results are on one page. (Two friends from high school are both running for judge.) I expect to see voting results at the Marquette Mining Journal, but nothing there as of 9am Weds.

David Helwig (twitter) is covering the Chippewa County elections for SooToday.

More details as anything is notable.

Several newspapers have coverage with Twitter – the Ann Arbor News has an (ahem) unofficial feed, and mLive does some state-wide coverage. Other newspaper twitters are dead including the Flint Journal and the Detroit Free Press.