Impossible Numbers Certified in NY-23


Written by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D.  

Wednesday, 25 November 2009 15:32


CANTON, NY – The election results certified by the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections for New York’s 23rd Congressional District contain some numbers that are mathematically impossible.  These numbers were requested in person and transmitted by e-mail just hours before certification on Tuesday, November 24th, 2009.


For six election districts in St. Lawrence County (the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 7th districts in Canton, the 14th district in Massena, and the 2nd district in Oswegatchie) negative numbers appear in the column for “blank” ballots, known in other states as “undervotes.”


Blank vote counts are ballots in which the voter did not choose any candidate in a given election and are determined by subtracting the total number of votes cast for the candidates from the number of voters who completed ballots.  The remaining number would be those voters who didn't cast a vote for that election.


In Canton's 7th district, the certified results show a total of 148 ballots cast. The results of those votes were counted as 88 votes for Owens, 11 votes for Scozzafava, and 80 votes for Hoffman.  The problem is that these numbers add up to 179 votes counted for the candidates, and there were only 148 ballots cast;  St. Lawrence County certified these numbers to the state as accurate with the number of 'blank' ballots reported as -31.


The Board of Elections stated repeatedly that their numbers add up, and strictly speaking, they do.  But negative numbers should not be required to make this happen.


Election analysts refer to this phenomenon as “phantom voters,” because they are apparitions.  They do not actually exist.  There can never be more votes counted for any office than the number of actual voters who cast ballots.  There could be one or two, if on occasion an actual voter forgot to sign the poll book, but never 31.


In addition to the 31 “phantom votes” certified in Canton's 7th district, there are 16 more in Canton's 2nd district, two in Canton's 4th district, 20 in the 7th, 22 in Massena 14th district, and 2 in Oswegatchie 2nd district.


These numbers are minimums. As 'blank' votes do often occur when a voter does not choose a candidate, the number of blank ballots are commonly a positive number.  According to the certiified results there were 757 "blank" ballots countywide, or 3.0% of the total ballots cast.  Thus, along with the -31 "phantom votes" in Canton's 2nd district, there were likely four or five people who actually cast a 'blank' ballot, meaning that the number of phantom votes is more like 35 or 36 for that district.


An audit of the poll books revealed that there were 537 actual voters at the polls in Canton's 7th and 8th district, which voted at the same polling place, and there were 25 absentee ballots, for a total of 562.  According to the certified results, there were 179 votes counted for Congress in Canton's 7th and 375 in Canton's 8th, making 554 altogether, but only 529 voters cast ballots.


Similarly, there were 435 actual voters at the polls in Canton 2, 4 and 6, which voted at the same polling place, and there were 26 absentee ballots, for a total of 461.  According to the certified results, there were 449 votes counted for Congress, but only 411 ballots cast.


In Massena's 14th district, a single-precinct polling place, there were 365 actual voters at the polls, and there were 14 absentee ballots, for a total of 379.  According to the certified results, there were 363 votes counted for Congress, but only 341 ballots cast.


In Oswegatchie 2nd and 4th districts, which voted at the same polling place, there were 412 actual voters at the polls, and there were 35 absentee ballots, for a total of 447.  According to the certified results, there were 436 votes counted for Congress, and 442 ballots cast.


Thus, in the cases cited above, there may have been enough actual voters at the polls to account for the vote totals for the candidates.  But the numbers do not match up, they do not withstand an audit, and they should not be certified by the State.



Oswegatchie illustrates perfectly how 'blank ballots' and 'phantom votes' can cancel each other out.  Officially, there were two 'phantom votes' in Oswegatchie 2nd district (or -2 blank ballots), and a total of 25 blank votes in Oswegatchie's 1st, 3rd, and 4th district.  The town of Oswegatchie's total number of blank votes was therefore reported as 23.    For every town except Canton, the town totals for blank votes are positive numbers.  “Phantom votes” are rarely visible except when scrutinizing the results at the precinct level.


In the certified election results from the above districts, where the voting machines appeared to be working properly, the computer-generated vote counts cannot possibly be accurate as they are showing more votes counted than voters.


Fundamentally, the fault does not lie with the Board of Elections, although perhaps they should have noticed the negative numbers before certifying them.  The fault lies with computerized vote counting and our willingness to trust it.


It has already been reported that zero votes were incorrectly reported in numerous precincts in Jefferson, Madison, and Oswego Counties for one of the Congressional candidates, and that voting machine failures occurred in dozens of polling places in at least three different counties.


In St. Lawrence County, ballots from eight polling places had to be hand counted due to voting machine failure.  Machines in Louisville, Waddington, Clare, and Rossie "broke" early in the voting process on Election Day.  Republican Commissioner Deborah Pahler said that the machines kept "freezing up... like Windows does all the time".  Machines in Hermon, Lawrence, Colton's 2nd district, and Massena's 1st and 2nd districts failed to print the results. Frank Hoar, an attorney for the Democratic Party, initially ordered the impoundment of malfunctioning machines but released the order on November 5th so that Bill Owens could be sworn in to Congress in time to vote on the House health bill on November 7th.


Electronic vote counting is much too vulnerable to failure and/or manipulation.  If a mechanical (lever-style) machine breaks down, the failure is visible, and only the one machine is affected.  With electronic vote counting, one person can change the outcome of an election and not leave a trace.  This has been shown over and over again in scientific studies, including those commissioned by the Secretaries of State in California and Ohio.


But more than that, how can we have a democracy if we cannot know if the vote count is accurate?  If election officials cannot know, and if the candidates cannot know, and if the voters cannot know that the official results are true and correct, why even have an election?  Why go through the motions?


In New York State, 232 years of election case law pursuant to the state constitution has strongly upheld the requirement that votes be counted visibly, in public view, and the results proclaimed, before the ballots or the lever machines leave the polling place.  It has long been understood that vote counting concealed from the public is a crime waiting to happen.  Because electronic vote counting is an invisible process, it flies in the face of tradition and case law.


Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D., is one of the leading election fraud investigators in the United States.  His book on the 2004 Ohio election, Witness to a Crime: A Citizens’ Audit of an American Election, based on examination of some 30,000 photographs of actual ballots, poll books, and other election records, is available at


Further information on some of the problems that occurred in the NY-23 elections can be found here


Sally Castleman, co-founder of Election Defense Alliance (EDA), a national organization committed to honest, secure and transparent elections, contributed to this article.


The author thanks the St. Lawrence County Board of Elections for providing unfettered access to election records.