Post Election Audits

Tag Archive

Colorado: Voting in Colorado

Arapahoe County Colorado was in the news the week with the Denver Post reporting that envelopes containing absentee ballots mailed to over 230,000 voters included “I Voted” stickers, which rubbed up against the ballot and in some cases left a faint, near-linear mark that appeared exactly where voters draw a line to select their candidates. The Secretary of State has issued a list of procedures to address the potential of un-readable ballots and because there is a software independent record of the voted, officials are confident that the problem can be resolved. Unfortunately not all potential problems with the Colorado’s voting technology can be resolved.

For polling place and early voting, Colorado uses Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines and paper based optical scan systems as well as at least two counties doing hand count of paper ballots. About 70% of ballots cast in Colorado are returned by mail. Some counties have only residual use of DRE to satisfy HAVA requirements, others collect substantial votes on DRE in precinct polling places. Some counties receive paper ballots at polling places but count them centrally by optical scan.

Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Virginia – the new Florida?

There are many ways in which Virginia 2012 could resemble the Florida 2000 – only worse. At least in 2000 there were paper ballots to recount in Florida.  But only 7 out of 134 Virginia localities (Virginia terminology for counties and independent cities) do not use paperless  Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines. If a DRE loses or miscounts ballots, it is essentially impossible to determine the correct results.

As if to guarantee that it will be impossible ever to verify an election in Virginia, Virginia law actually prohibits manual post-election ballot audits of paper ballots, except in extremely narrow and unlikely circumstances. This prevents election verification even in the 7 localities that have no paperless DREs (Chesterfield, Gloucester, Hanover, New Kent, Wythe, Fredericksburg, and Williamburg), together with the 30 other localities that have a mix of paper ballots and paperless voting machines.  Unless the anti-verification law is repealed, Virginia will continue to be a poster child for how not to run an election, even after Virginia replaces all of its antiquated paperless DREs with paper ballot based optical scan systems, as it should. But it gets worse. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Report on second risk-limiting audit under AB 2023 in Monterey County California

The second risk-limiting audit under California AB 2023 was conducted on May 6 in Monterey County. The contest was a Special all-mail election for Monterey Peninsula Water Management District Director, Division 1.  Monterey uses Sequoia equipment. There were two candidates: Brenda Lewis and Thomas M. Mancini, and write-ins. 2111 ballots were cast in all.  The reported totals were 1353 reported for Lewis, 742 for Mancini, and 13 write-ins. The remaining 3 ballots were recorded as undervotes and overvotes.  Lewis was reported to have 64.18% of the valid votes.

Two members of the public observed the entire audit process, which took roughly 90 minutes including some preliminary explanation of the procedure. They confirmed that their interpretation of the ballots agreed with mine and the elections officials’, and they helped roll the dice used to select ballots at random.  In conversations afterward, they seemed quite satisfied with the transparency of the procedure (although perhaps not utterly convinced by the mathematics that justified the details).

The audit was performed as follows. After the ballots had been tabulated officially, elections officials Bates-stamped each with a unique serial number (1962 ballots that were scanned had been stamped prior to audit day; the remaining 149 were stamped as part of the audit). It is my understanding that stamping the ballots took about 5 person-hours in all. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Flawed Wisconsin Race Proves Need for Transparency, Accountability in Election Procedures

When Wisconsin voters flocked to the polls on April 5, one of the factors driving the high turnout was the State Supreme Court contest between incumbent Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg. Prosser, whose term ends July 31, often casts the deciding vote on the seven-member court. He is a conservative Republican former Speaker of the Assembly seen as closely allied to Wisconsin’s controversial Gov. Scott Walker. Kloppenburg, a virtual unknown who was given little chance of success when she entered the race several months ago, was buoyed by the high passions stirred by Walker’s actions to strip government employees of their collective bargaining rights. Though the race is officially nonpartisan, it was seen as both a referendum on Walker and a chance to affect the Supreme Court’s ruling on Walker’s actions, which are likely to be reviewed by the Court in its next term. Election night results were considered too close to call, but the next day when seemingly all the votes had been tallied, Kloppenburg claimed victory with a margin of 204 votes of the more than 1.4 million total votes cast. A recount seemed inevitable.

Then one day later, County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus of Republican stronghold Waukesha County suddenly announced in a dramatic press conference that she had forgotten to include the votes of the county’s second-largest city, Brookfield, in her tabulation. The more than 14,000 votes she added now gave Prosser a lead of almost 7,316 votes of the 1,498,880 votes cast, or 0.488%. Wisconsin picks up the tab for recounts where the margin of victory is less than 0.5%, so this falls just barely within the margin of a state-funded recount.

Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Paper Ballots – New York Courts Don’t Get It

New York State’s highest Court has upheld lower Court decisions to stop any further counting of ballots and declare a winner in the 7th Senate District race. The decision is unfortunate on many levels, not the least of which is that it sets legal precedent in the State for how we verify election results by auditing and recounting paper ballots. New York’s Courts have now ruled, in essence, “We do not use paper ballots to verify elections.” The Court, displaying a lever-machine mindset, believed it’s okay to trust the machine. It never was of course, but New York has never had a way to verify election results before. The Court didn’t understand why we need to compare machine reported results with a manual inspection of ballots in the audit, failing to grasp that the way we get to the real result is counting the paper, not avoiding it at all costs.

Read More

Verified Voting Blog: New York SD 7: Count the Paper

In the first test case of how we verify election results using New York’s new paper ballots, the State Judiciary is in the process of setting an egregious precedent – Judges are free to nullify audits and recounts in the interests of having a quick decision. In Nassau County’s contested 7th Senate District (SD7) race, two State Courts that have heard the case to date have made very bad decisions. Ruling that even if New York’s audit laws require a further hand count of paper ballots, accepting the machine results and declaring a winner outweigh the public’s right to know who really won the election. [ See news reports here and here.]

The Johnson and Martins dispute demonstrates the typical dynamic in close political contests when paper ballots are available to inspect – regardless of party affiliation, the candidate in the lead wants to stop further ballot counting, the candidate behind wants to continue. And the Courts almost always become involved in one way or another. In the SD7 case, Johnson asks the Court to order a full manual recount, since several machines failed the initial 3% audit. Martin’s legal team on the other hand argues that “At the end of the day we must balance accuracy with finality”. The meaning here is hardly disguised – stop counting ballots, we’re more interested in winning than getting an accurate result. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: States May Use Federal HAVA Funds for Post-Election Audits

Post-election audits of electronic vote tallies are inexpensive.  The process is simple: a sample of precincts (or batches of ballots that have been tallied electronically) is chosen randomly, counted by hand, and compared to the corresponding computer tally.  To mention just two examples, North Carolina conducted an audit of  the Presidential election in 275 precincts (almost 10% of the total precincts in the state) for a statewide total of $31,000, and  Connecticut’s November 2008 audit costed 11 cents per audited race on each ballot.

Still, in these straightened times, States and counties with auditable voting systems might be concerned about the costs of manually counting ballots.  In May, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission gave such jurisdictions excellent but little-noticed news: the Commission ruled that States may use Federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds to pay for the cost of post-election audits.  The EAC concluded that funds allocated under either Section 101 or Section 251 of HAVA may be used to fund audits. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: On the South Carolina Primary – A call for recountable, auditable voting systems

Last week’s surprising outcome in a party primary in South Carolina for United States Senate was accompanied by anecdotal reports of voting problems on election day, and many questions about the accuracy of the vote count. Whether specific reports of irregularities in this election are confirmed, the most important fact about South Carolina’s voting system is that most ballots cannot be effectively audited or recounted. Serious concerns about the integrity of the primary (and of other elections conducted using the same technology) are inevitable, and legitimate. South Carolina uses paperless touch-screen electronic voting machines for all but absentee voting, which is done using paper ballots. Thus for the vast majority of votes, voters cannot check to be sure their votes were recorded as intended, and election officials cannot conduct legitimate recounts or audits to prove that the machines were counting the votes correctly. When there is no reliable hard-copy record of the voters’ intent to fall back on, election officials, candidates and the public are at the mercy of the counting software, which may or may not function correctly.   Absent a “do-over” election using a system that can be recounted or audited, there is simply no way to know if the outcome was correct. In our 2008 joint report report “Is America Ready to Vote,” Common Cause, Verified Voting, and the Brennan Center for Justice rated South Carolina inadequate for failing to offer the basics of a verified election: an auditable system, and manual audits of the system to check electronic counts. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: The 2010 Primaries: More Recounts than Recountable Elections

The 2010 primary election season is in full swing.  As in every election cycle, there are a number of extremely close races, with recounts looming for some.  So far this year, state-mandated automatic recounts are likely for the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, and for the Republican primary for Ohio’s 18th U.S. Congressional District.  In Oregon, a recount is possible in the statewide race for superintendent of schools. Some of 2010’s recounts will include the hand-to-eye examination of actual ballots; for example, Oregon mandates that recounts be 100% hand-counted.  But too many “recounts” this year will depend upon the correct functioning of computer software or firmware.  We believe that this state of affairs is not tenable.  When a state does not provide every voter with a reliable, physical ballot showing his or her intent, or does not conduct computer-independent recounts of those ballots, then an effective recount –  a process that should provide the strongest possible evidence of the intent of the electorate – is not possible. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: California Legislation Calls for First Risk-Limiting Pilot Audits

Over the past year, election auditing experts, including Verified Voting staff, have been working with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s office toward improving California’s audits. Now legislation authorizing the Secretary of State to work with a minimum of five volunteer counties to conduct pilot risk-limiting audits in 2011 is making good progress. The Secretary of State will report to the legislature on the risk-limiting pilots, and how their effectiveness, efficiency, and cost compare to those of the current 1% manual tally. Currently, California law requires hand counting all contests on ballots from one percent of randomly selected precincts in each county, and comparing those hand counted totals with the announced election results.

Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Efficient Auditing of Election Results

On March 27 and 28, 2010, Verified Voting and Common Cause sponsored a meeting of in Washington, D.C. to share experiences and ideas for improving post-election audits. The participants included election officials, statisticians, computer and political scientists, election integrity advocates, and voting system vendor technical staff. This meeting marked the first time that diverse stakeholders, including voting systems vendors, met together for the explicit purpose of identifying the potential benefits and challenges of using small batches of ballots (i.e., smaller than precincts — down to and including individual ballot records) to make audits more effective and efficient.

Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Recommendations to NIST on Post Election Audits

Verified Voting today joined with computers scientists and advocacy organizations in signing the following recommendations on post-election audits to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

We, the undersigned, participated in a working meeting on vote tabulation audits hosted by the American Statistical Association (ASA) on October 23 and 24, 2009. We write to emphasize that future iterations of the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) should facilitate effective vote tabulation audits. We applaud the VVSG II’s requirement for independent voter-verifiable records (IVVRs). This requirement is necessary to enable verification of election outcomes independently of the tabulation systems; it should be adopted as soon as possible. However, if election outcomes are to be verified efficiently, vote tabulation systems must meet requirements that go well beyond the draft VVSG 1.1. Read More