2010 Massachusetts special election

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After Democratic senator Ted Kennedy died, Massachusetts held a special election to replace his seat. Martha Coakley, a popular Democratic attorney general, ran against Scott Brown, a Tea Party Republican. In this heavily Democratic state, Coakley was expected to win, but Brown pulled off a surprising victory. This was taken as a sign of brewing discontentment with the Democrats, but the election was completely unaccountable and showed a remarkable irregularity indicating vote theft.


Shocking upset

Martha Coakley was widely considered a shoo-in for the Senate. Massachusetts was a heavily Democratic state that hadn't elected a Republican to the Senate in 38 years. Coakley herself was a quite popular politician, having won her 2006 attorney general election in a landslide. Virtually no one gave Scott Brown a serious chance of winning. That's why Brown's victory was such a shocking upset, defying all political wisdom.

It's certainly possible that last-minute political shifts could explain the upset. Brown was edging ahead in the polls, and after the election, political observers wasted no time blaming a lackluster campaign by Coakley.[1] But such a surprising election outcome should raise suspicion. This is especially true considering the stakes: the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, upon which crucial bills like the ACA depended, hung in the balance. And there was no check against vote count manipulation: no recounts, no ballots examined, no code audits, and a shady corporation programming the machines. If someone wanted to manipulate the results, they could easily get away with it.[2]

Hand vs. machine counts

Massachusetts counted votes on optical scanners in 97% of towns, but 3% of towns used hand-counted paper ballots. Hand-counted paper ballots, whose count can be publicly observed, are considered the gold-standard of election accuracy. Unlike voting machines, which conduct counts invisibly, hand counts are out in the open for everyone to see, leaving little room for manipulation.

A useful metric, then, for checking unverifiable optical scanner counts is to compare against the hand counts. Coakley won hand-counted areas by 2.8%, but lost the machine-counted areas to Brown by 5.2%. The fact that Brown did 8.0% better when votes were counted on unobservable machines prone to manipulation is incredibly telling. It hints at voting machine manipulation in Brown's favor.

But a direct comparison ignores that hand-counted and machine-counted towns might differ politically. If the hand-counted towns were randomly distributed, one could expect them to match the machine counts nearly exactly. In Massachusetts, however, the hand-counted areas are generally more rural, not necessarily representative of the entire state.

One can look at past elections to see if there's a disparity between machine-counted and hand-counted regions. In John Kerry's 2008 Senate election, he won machine counts by 36.0% and hand counts by 37.0%. In Ted Kennedy's 2006 Senate election, he won machine counts by 39.0% and hand counts by 37.8%. Averaging the two elections together, there's virtually no difference in voting patterns between the two regions.

Coakley's 2006 attorney general election also confirms this pattern. She won machine counts by 46.0% and hand counts by 45.2%. Once again, both types of counts matched almost exactly. In fact, she did slightly better in machine-counted areas.

Neither recent Senate election nor Coakley's own recent election exhibited a major discrepancy between machine and hand counts. In fact, based on past elections and voter registration figures, the machine-counted towns appear slightly more Democratic than the hand-counted towns. The pro-Republican disparity only showed up in a competitive election with control of the Senate and billions of federal dollars riding on the result. A benign explanation is less tenable than the conclusion that optical scanners were rigged against Coakley.[2]

Untrustworthy contractor

Main article: LHS Associates

LHS Associates, responsible for programming nearly all voting machines in Massachusetts, is quite the opposite of a reputable contractor. Its employees (some of whom are criminals) show an extreme disdain for election integrity: deriding concerns over voting machine security, violating election law, and even threatening to rig elections. The company is very secretive, programming the machines with no public oversight, and its documents aren't subject to public records laws. Anyone at LHS Associates could rig an election without being caught, and the criminal elements within the company make that a realistic possibility.


Scott Brown's upset was seen as a warning sign for Democrats. It set the narrative that the public was fed up with Democrats' abuse of power, especially regarding the ACA healthcare bill, and willing to punish them at the ballot box. Many Democrats began bracing for a crushing defeat in the 2010 midterms[1], which is what happened. 2010 was drenched in election irregularities itself, but thanks to the rigged MA Senate race, it seemed to follow naturally.


  1. 1.0 1.1 CNN, "Democrats point fingers after stunning loss", 2010/01/20
  2. 2.0 2.1 Jonathan Simon, "Believe It (Or Not): The Massachusetts Special Election For US Senate", 2010/08/27

External links

  • Gouverneur Times, "Watch for Pre-Emptive Maneuver Thru "Calling the Race" in MA" by Bev Harris, 2010/01/19
  • Black Box Voting, "1/10 - BIPARTISANLY YOURS: COAKLEY WON THE HAND COUNTS", 2010/01/20 (alternate link)
    • "But in a 3:1 Dem state with really good turnout for a special election, (in rural, suburbs, and cities alike), even all that enthusiasm and good vs bad campaigning Brown would have a had a hard time overcoming, especially given the decent turnout at the end. Its not like the Obama/Hill near toss up between them, Brown HAD to have huge enthusiasm edge and better run campaign to even be in the game in MA but even with that he had to climb up a big hill once decent turnout there.

      Also, as I saw with the Jesse Ventura unlikely win for Gov in MN, it was necessary for him to look viable before people really started to rally around him. So some early polls that showed him getting closer really helped, then enthusiasm really took off. I saw his believable support go viral when my precinct was mobbed with lots of people I had never seen before, like muddy construction worker etc, lining up to make a historic upset. (MN allows same day regist, so he got a lot of previous non-voters).

      In Brown's case, what really got him going was some stunning poll results a few weeks ago. Some of those polls were total crap, as Nate at 538 pointed out. Even the more establishment polls had weird, not typical biases in their locations of their samples (greatly favor Brown's support areas) and Rasmussen apparently did not realease last poll as is typical (what trend in likely voters might it have shown once Dems got worried and mobilized more). Most of the initial polls made Brown look good based on using the assumption of very low turnout and likley voters being much more swayed to enhusiastic Brown supporters as opposed to hold-your-nose Coakley supporters, but from the turnout data I have seen both Brown and Coakley support areas came out real well...sure there was not ground swell support Obama got in pres election, but its not like heavily Dem areas had way worse turnout than Repub areas.

      So you have early wacky polls creating Brown surging even more than he was, then when Dem fear starts to make it more likely they turnout, polling stops reporting and Brown wins by big enough margin to no warrant examination.

      It occurs to me Brown's win is the perfect recipe for TPTB to keep status quo and resist reform from left or right. Its not like Tea Partiers could put a conservative populist up from election in Mass, Brown, a moderate Repub (read: establishment) was Repubs only hope. So his election does nothing for economic populism, despite his friendly visits to Tea Partiers, he just helps on mainstrem Repub partisan stuff like anti HCR and pro big business policies. In fact Brown nicely hijacks right wing populism into nowhere, ineffective land. It also ensures Congress will be even more dysfunctial, if possible, so no real reform on behalf of the little guy, from the left or the right will happen."