Tim Canova Spreads Study Claiming Election May Have Been "Manipulated"

Donald Trump has spent the past month complaining that his race against Hillary Clinton might be "rigged" November 8. The nation and all sides of the media, from Fox News to MSNBC, have said Trump's claims are without merit.

Now South Florida has its own brewing election controversy. Former Florida congressional candidate Tim Canova says there may be evidence that the outcome of his race against former Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was "manipulated" after an independent blogger posted a study raising concerns about the election's results.

Today he urged reporters at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to examine the study, while declining outright to say he believes someone tampered with his race. Canova lost the Democratic primary in Florida's 23rd Congressional District in August by a massive 14 percentage points.

Last week, Lulu Fries'dat, an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist who formerly produced segments for ABC, CBS, NBC, and other networks, published a statistical analysis of Canova's race against Wasserman Schultz. After analyzing demographic data from the Broward County Supervisor of Elections — in tandem with data from multiple people with doctorates in statistics — she raised concerns that the race's electronic voting machines might have been "manipulated."

Her study has not been independently reviewed. Via phone last week, a spokesperson for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections said she had seen no evidence of fraud, hacking, or manipulation but did not respond to followup emails about the study.
Reached by phone last week, Canova told New Times he was not accusing anyone, including Wasserman Schultz, of election fraud.

"The statistical analysis of my election raises questions about possible manipulation," he also wrote in an email. "Please don't confuse asking such questions with reaching conclusions or making accusations."

Today Canova and Fries'dat spoke to reporters at the National Press Club. When a reporter asked Canova if he believed he actually won his primary election, he said he didn't know.

"I have no idea, that's my clearest take," he said.

Fries'dat had previously produced a documentary called Holler Back, which examined voter suppression in America. Part of that documentary dealt with the relative ease with which electronic voting machines can be hacked. 

In her study, Fries'dat and her team obtained demographic data from Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. That data showed how many people voted, what areas they voted in, and basic info such as their age and race. Fries'dat and her statisticians then used what they call a "Cumulative Precinct Vote Tally Chart" to analyze the results. They compiled the chart by adding the total votes in each precinct, one by one. They claimed that, according to the statistical "Law of Large Numbers," the results should further and further resemble the "average" voting demographics in a given area.

Fries'dat claimed that, after compiling a CVT Chart for Canova's race, her results suggest Canova's election might have been tampered with. She said the results may have been artificially "boosted" in favor of Wasserman Schultz, one of the most powerful and well-known Democrats in D.C.

"No matter what percentages of the actual votes we distributed to the candidates, we were unable to replicate the reported results," she wrote. "This would seem to imply some kind of manipulation was necessary to obtain these results. It is possible that the reported results are based on demographic trends, but that those trends are being exaggerated in some way."

There are a few huge caveats to the information here: For one, it's unclear if Freis'dat's analysis is reliable. She does not know how anyone actually voted. She knows only the number of people who voted in each precinct. The study's statisticians created models to guess how many people voted for each candidate, leaving room for error in the analysis.

The results also could have been due to demographics, she wrote:

There are three general explanations for the pattern.
  • It could be caused by an error in the computation of the results.
  • It could be due to demographic differences between the precincts. If the larger precincts had a much larger representation of a group that supports one of the candidates - it is possible that it could explain the increase in one candidate's percentage. The larger demographic group would need to be much larger than the actual increase, since no group experiences 100% turnout and it is unlikely that any candidate receives 100% support from a community.
  • It could be caused by manipulation of the results.
"This is something we do not like to talk about, but election fraud is a big part of our election history," she said at the Press Club today.

Even after demographic trends were taken into account, Fries'dat said her team was unable to re-create the trends that Broward and Miami-Dade reported.

"The results need to be verified in some way," Canova said today. He repeatedly refused to accuse anyone of election-rigging and instead said he "would support" a hand-count recount of some election results. 

"I'm here to learn," he said. "I don't have an agenda."

Update 10/24: A spokesperson for Wasserman Schultz provided the following statement to New Times: 

Let's be clear: Tim Canova spent $4 million and lost his primary by double digits - not due to odd voting patterns, but the fact that he was a first-time, untested candidate who didn't know the district and ran an unconvincing, ineffective campaign against a popular, well-positioned effective member of Congress who ran a successful grassroots neighbor-to-neighbor campaign.

More importantly, his actions are deceitful, disingenuous and just downright deplorable to suggest that this election was somehow stolen or manipulated after losing by 14 points.

It's pathetic that in his need for attention…his attempt to stay relevant, that he is willing to rip a page straight from the Donald Trump playbook. Although, considering that Tim Canova is spending the run-up to the general election stumping for Jill Stein at the expense of Hillary Clinton and to the benefit of Mr. Trump - maybe it's no surprise at all.

Update 10/25: In an email today, Canova refuted Wasserman Schultz's comments. He denied that he is campaigning for Stein in any way, and characterized that statement, from Spokesperson Geoff Burgan, as a lie:

For instance, Wasserman Schultz’s spokesperson claims that I have been stumping for Green Party candidate Jill Stein at the expense of Hillary Clinton, which even if true, would have no bearing on the integrity of our primary election. But in fact, I turned down an invitation to share a stage with Jill Stein just last month. I have never been invited to share a stage with Hillary Clinton, even though the head of Clinton’s Florida campaign initially reached out to me after my primary, only to then go silent. Perhaps it has served Wasserman Schultz’s personal political interest to prevent any such overtures by the Clinton campaign. Wasserman Schultz’s false statement that I’m campaigning for Stein can only serve to harm Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump by signaling a false endorsement to the tens of thousands of people in Florida and across the country who supported my campaign. Once again, Wasserman Schultz has put her own interests ahead of our party and our party’s nominee. Her statement about me "stumping” for someone I have not endorsed is what’s “deceitful, disingenuous and just downright deplorable."
"The recent statistical and demographic study of our primary election results raises questions about the accuracy of those results," he added. "But apparently asking these questions is so threatening that it led Wasserman Schultz to have her unnamed spokesperson unleash a tirade of lies and insults at me."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.