In the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush won the presidency thanks to a winning margin of just 537 votes in Florida. Out of all the votes cast in Florida in that election, The New York Times reported that more than 170,000 were not counted for one reason or the other. If just 538 of those lost votes had gone to Al Gore, history would have been changed. A report by Common Cause after the 2012 election, which was plagued by voting problems, outlined the extent and implications of the missing vote problem in U.S. elections.
High-profile elections in the past decade have been decided by razor-thin margins. The 2000 presidential race was decided by 537 votes in Florida; the Washington State gubernatorial race in 2004 by 129 votes, and a Minnesota Senate race in 2008 by just 312. Every national election since 2000 has seen voting system failures stem from machines that won't start, memory cards that can't be read, mis-tallied votes, lost votes and more. Under the U.S. Constitution and every state constitution, as well as by statute throughout the country, every vote must be counted as cast. — Common Cause
The 2000 and 2012 elections resulted in federal and state efforts to improve the efficiency and integrity of the ballot box, but the results are mixed. Politico reported that more than 220,000 provisional ballots in eighteen states were discarded in the 2016 primaries because “a voter’s eligibility cannot be immediately verified at the polls.” In the 2016 New York Democratic primary, more than 90,000 votes could not be counted because voter information could not be verified.
Welcome to Null Island
In 2012, Wisconsin election officials found that some voters had been assigned a location far from The Badger State. A local County elections clerk complained:
We had many, many voters who showed up (on the computer map) on the coast of Africa and we had to drag them back to the state of Wisconsin and put them where they belonged. — Milwaukie Journal Sentinel
Welcome to Null Island! Turns out these missing voters were residing on Null Island and they were not alone. Every day many thousands of people find themselves stranded on this unique piece of real estate. Indeed, you’ve probably been there yourself!
Every day, countless people seeking digital directions on their computers and smartphones are diverted to an isolated spot on the Atlantic Ocean, 1,000 miles or so off the coast of Africa, where the Prime Meridian and the equator intersect. It’s called Null Island. — The Wall Street Journal
In Wisconsin, many voters lived in places where the Census Bureau didn’t have the correct map coordinates. So, when a new, automated system voting system could not match voters addresses with map coordinates, it threw up its hands and sent all these folks to Null Island.
Null Island is at the crossroad of the world
Technology has transformed Null Island from a sleepy island in the middle of nowhere to digital powerhouse visited by many of the world’s most influential companies. It is literally at the crossroad of the world. Null Island’s unique location in the world is what has created its fame. The Island is located precisely at zero degrees latitude at zero degrees longitude. It’s truly a place where all those who are lost can be found. In terms of digital cartography, Null Island is one of the most visited locations in the world. The only problem is that Null Island doesn’t actually exist.
Created by a programming quirk
The Wall Journal explains that Null Island was created by a programming quirk that sends millions of users to “zero-zero” (mappers shorthand for zero degrees latitude and zero degrees longitude) when users of Google Maps and other GPS-based applications make a mistake in their search or data input.
There’s always a spot where the system goes when it really doesn’t know where it should go. That’s Null Island. — Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso, chief cartographer of Mapzen
According to Nathaniel Vaughn of Mapzen, on a particularly busy day in June, there were 1.7 million misguided location requests created in Mapzen that landed on Null Island.
So, if the 2016 presidential election is as close as the 2000 contest, the candidates should check out Null Island to see if they can find any of their uncounted votes before conceding the election.