It’s now just more than a week after Election Day, which means that we’re in recount season. In the governor’s and Senate races in Florida, possibly in the governor’s race in Georgia, and in smaller local races galore, officials are gathering to re-tabulate the ballots in contests where one candidate led by a razor-thin margin on election night. It’s become a ritual of our democracy that when the outcome is close, each side usually accuses the other of trying to steal the election. In some cases, it’s obvious that we should double-check the count. Our mantra is, as it should be, to make sure every ballot is counted fairly and accurately. It’s a noble democratic goal. The trouble is, we don’t know how to accomplish it. Seriously. We’ve been counting objects since we were toddlers playing with blocks, and we ought to be pretty good at it. We’re not — at least when we’re counting ballots. The tally from election night (what cognoscenti have come to call the “preliminary” count) is almost certainly wrong. Let’s be very clear about that. Counting errors are a given, no matter what system is used. We humans miscount paper ballots, but machines aren’t much better. Ballots get mangled, they stick to each other, they get counted twice or not at all. So we count again. Of course we do. The trouble is that the recount — known as the “official” or the “certified” count — is also almost certainly wrong.
It’s true that recounts are often more careful than the preliminary tallies, but the complicated systems for checking ballots can themselves lead to potential errors. In one commonly used method, four auditors work together. The first reads the ballot aloud, the second checks to be sure the ballot has been read correctly, and the other two keep a hand count, pausing at regular intervals to be sure they are in sync. Other systems involve three auditors per ballot, or two, but no matter which we choose, it’s easy to imagine the count getting tangled.
And that’s exactly what the research suggests will happen. A widely cited study of New Mexico’s 2006 election found that machine counts and hand counts of the same ballots differed enormously, with agreement ranging from just above 50 percent to just below 80 percent — meaning that even in the best case, there was disagreement more than 20 percent of the time. 1 The study also found that successive hand counts of the same ballots usually yield differing results.
Full Article: U.S. Election Results 2018: Get Used to Recounts – Bloomberg.