Between 2000 and 2009, recounts in state elections were extremely uncommon and rarely resulted in reversals when they did happen, according to a new study [PDF] by the Center for Voting and Democracy. Out of 2,884 statewide general elections there were 18 recounts, only three of which resulted in a change in decision. …
“Having an automatic recount procedure for a race won by 0.5 percent, that’s way too high, absent some reason to think that there’s something that was systematically done in error or fraud.” But Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, said the systems used in many states can’t be recounted because of their design. And even where recountable systems are used, fraud and error can easily go undetected if a race is not close enough to merit a recount.
“You’ve got 18 recounts out of close to 3,000 contests, three of which resulted in decisions being reversed,” she said. “Well, three isn’t a large percentage out of 3,000, but it’s a sixth of 18. If those are the only cases that you’re doing a recount in, I think you have to look at that.”
Smith said California is ahead of the curve when it comes to many of these issues. The state has been conducting a baseline manual tally of 1 percent of precincts in every county for decades. And in 2007, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen commissioned a “top-to-bottom review” of voting systems and created a Post Election Audit Standards Working Group [PDF].
California also recently passed legislation launching a “risk-limiting audit” program to increase the scrutiny of electronic voting machines, which is something that Richie calls for in the study. “Recount laws should go hand in hand with rigorous post-election audit procedures designed to identify outcomes that may be questionable due to fraud or error no matter what the initial margin.”