Nearly 20 U.S. States Do Not Audit Election Results by Checking Paper Ballots Against Machine Counts or Lack a Paper Ballot to Conduct Effective Audits
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wisconsin’s action last week requiring a post-election audit will help secure the November vote and should be followed by states that lack such protections, according to Public Citizen and Verified Voting.
On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) took a key step to secure the vote by requiring an audit of November’s election results before they are made official. The commission voted to randomly select five percent of voting machines in the state to be audited the day after the 2018 general election. For the audit, municipal clerks will hand count ballots from randomly selected machines, comparing what’s on the paper ballot to what the machine recorded. They will do this across four races before the vote count is finalized. (See WEC meeting minutes pages 34 and 49.)
Wisconsin’s action shows that it’s not too late to commit to auditing the 2018 vote counts before finalizing results, Public Citizen and Verified Voting said. Votes can – and should – be checked against voter-marked paper ballots for accuracy.
At least 13 states do not require post-election audits to verify the vote count: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Georgia, Delaware, Louisiana and South Carolina systems lack paper ballots, making audits impossible. Likewise, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have audit laws that are ineffective because, the majority of their counties do not have the paper ballots required to conduct such an audit.
Other states like Indiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas do not offer paper ballots in most counties, making it impossible to adequately audit the vote count. A couple of states conduct procedural audits following an election, but these also are not adequate to detect hacks or errors in the vote count.
Michigan has a measure on the ballot this November calling for stronger post-election audits. In Nebraska and Nevada, audits can be conducted at the discretion of state election officials.
Having paper ballots and undertaking rigorous post-election audits using those paper ballots to detect hacks or computer errors and to ensure that election outcomes are correct are among the top recommendations by election security experts, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and the U.S. Congress via its 2018 Help America Vote Act funding bill.
“We’re still behind the states where audits verify the correct winners, but we’re no longer among the states that don’t audit in any meaningful way at all,” said Karen McKim, coordinator of Wisconsin Election Integrity, the group that spearheaded the statewide effort to comment in support of stronger audits. “WEC’s action today was of national significance.”
“Many states and localities are struggling to improve audits or even get the paper ballots necessary to audit in these last weeks leading up to the November elections. Wisconsin is making the most important state-level improvement possible for securing the vote count at this juncture,” said Aquene Freechild, coordinator of the Secure Our Vote Coalition and co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. Groups working with the Secure Our Vote coalition generated 1,500 comments in support of rigorous post-election audits from across Wisconsin.
“By conducting post-election audits in time to correct wrong outcomes – instead of after the votes are finalized – Wisconsin took a huge step forward for election security. Robust, routine post-election audits of vote tabulations are vital for protecting U.S. elections and bolstering public confidence,” said Mark Lindeman, Verified Voting’s senior science and technology policy officer.
In addition to paper ballots and audits, election security experts recommend states take additional steps to protect voter registration databases from attacks that could delete or scramble voter data and allow for speedy recovery in the case of hack or equipment failure.
The Secure Our Vote Coalition works across party lines to empower everyday Americans to take action on election security. Public Citizen is a founding member of the Secure Our Vote Coalition. Verified Voting is the nation’s preeminent election security group working toward accuracy, integrity and verifiability of elections.