As the Secure Elections Act barrels towards a crucial markup in the Senate, two of its original cosponsors expressed divergent views on whether the bill must mandate hand counted post-election audits. The latest version of the bill released by Senate Rules Committee chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) would, like its predecessors, mandate that every state conduct a post-election audit to verify the results. However, Blunt’s version would allow states to conduct those audits by hand as well as through electronic means. Previous versions of the bill specified that audits be inspected “by hand and not by device.” During a hearing on cybersecurity, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), one of the original co-sponsors of the bill, pressed her colleagues to fight to reinsert the language. “I would love to see that risk-limiting audit requirement across the country,” said Klobuchar. “What we have right now in the bill is a requirement that simply audits be required and they have to report back to us. We have backup paper ballots in 14 states now, nine as you know have partial [paper backups], five don’t have any at all….I don’t know how you could prove what happened in an election if there was a hacking.”
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the other original cosponsor of the Secure Elections Act, told reporters he was open to leaving the provision untouched. “I don’t have a problem [with a digital audit],” Lankford said.
Lankford said that while there’s “common agreement we need to have some kind of paper” requirements in the bill, he believes state officials should be responsible for choosing which system of auditing bests meets their needs.
“There’s been lots of conversations with staff,” said Lankford. “It doesn’t have to be a paper ballot, it can be a paper receipt. It can be any way to keep track of it. Some people say paper is always a paper ballot, I don’t think that’s necessarily so.”
Hand counting a randomly selected sample of vote totals is one component of what are known as risk-limiting audits, a process that election security experts and groups like Verified Voting have called “the gold standard” for validating election results. Digital audits, on the other hand, have been criticized by many of those same experts as ineffective, since a hacker who has compromised a voting machine could also have the ability to change the electronic image state officials would use to compare results.