The Agenda

No, Sarah Palin Is Not Stealing the Dancing With the Stars Election

Gawker Media site Jezebel alleges that “Palin Conservatives Are Cheating The DWTS Voting System.” For the uninitiated, that’s ABC’s Dancing With the Stars; Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, is a competitor this fall, billed as a “Teen Activist”. Bristol hasn’t been rated particularly favorably by the show’s judges, but viewer votes (cast by phone, text and over the internet) account for 50 percent of the show’s formula for scoring competitors, which allows fan favorites to hold on longer than they otherwise might.

What’s Jezebel’s evidence of cheating? It’s that some posters at FreeRepublic and other websites have talked about using fake email addresses to cast online votes for Bristol above ABC’s per-person allotment.

ABC.com does not require that you verify the email address you use to vote, so you can just make one (or many) up—and apparently, some Palin fans are doing so. Jezebel writer Tracie Morrissey describes this as a “technical snafu,” but it sounds like a conscious user interface choice to me: call-in reality competition shows are not exactly based on the one-person-one-vote model, and ABC could easily implement email verification if they thought it was important that DWTS outcomes accurately reflect the will of the people.

Let’s set aside whether using fake email accounts is “cheating,” any more than it’s cheating to clear your cookies so you can vote more than once in an online poll. Is this scheme really the reason that Bristol keeps holding on, week after week, despite turning out consistently mediocre performances? It doesn’t look like it.

In fact, Morrissey inadvertently offers evidence against her own claim. She points out that DialIdol predictions have Bristol leading the public vote from last night’s show, despite earning the lowest scores from the DWTS panel of experts for the third week running. Thus, she says, “it seems like it’s working!”

But DialIdol does not track online votes! It works by “measuring the busy signal”: DWTS superfans download DialIdol software, which automatically casts the maximum allowable number of telephone votes with a dial-up modem. The software then tracks how often it gets a busy signal: more popular stars are more likely to have all their voting lines filled up, producing more busies. Using this method, DialIdol predicts that Bristol will survive elimination tonight and make it to next week’s final.

This is to say, the DialIdol model thinks that Palin leads the phone voting, before you account for the internet-based shenanigans that Morrissey describes. Which makes this vote fraud claim about as meaningful as 99 percent of the vote fraud claims you see every November from the backers of losing candidates, be they Joe Miller, John Kerry, or Bristol’s vanquished competitors on DWTS.

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