By Philip N. Howard

In very close elections, the margin of error for the system of collecting and counting votes may be greater than the margin of victory for a candidate. The report, “In the Margins: Political Victory in the Context of Technology Error, Residual Votes, and Incident Reports in 2004,” evaluates three ways of thinking about error in an election: technology error, residual votes, and incident reports. In 2004, we find seven states where electoral outcomes were certified even though the margin of error in that state’s voting process was greater than the margin of victory for the declared winner Florida, Kentucky and South Dakota certified Republican Party candidates for the US Senate; electoral college votes in Iowa and New Mexico were assigned to Bush; electoral college votes in New Hampshire were assigned to Kerry; Washington state certified a Democratic Party candidate for Governor. In each case, the electoral outcome was legitimated by elections officials, not the electorate, because in very close races the voting process cannot reveal electoral intent. Public policy solutions are offered, such as run-off elections, standardized data reporting about error rates, and open source technology solutions.