When you cast your vote, do you ever wonder whether it’s being accurately counted? The League of Women Voters supports election integrity and public confidence in our electoral process. To that end, we applaud the State of Connecticut’s post-election audits and encourage citizens to be volunteer observers when these audits are conducted. For the election that took place on Nov. 7, audits will begin on Nov. 22. After each election in Connecticut, audit locations are chosen by lottery. For example, this October the results of the September primary elections were audited at 5 percent of the polling locations where voting took place. The polling locations were in various municipalities around the state: Bridgeport, Cheshire, Greenwich, New Haven, New London, Newtown, and Stratford. Audit results are analyzed by the University of Connecticut, the Secretary of the State’s Office, and the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
About 1,000 more votes were cast during Baltimore’s primary election than there were voters who checked in at the polls, an ongoing state review has found. State elections officials said Thursday that workers examining Baltimore’s election have uncovered “significant” problems. They have found more than 450 provisional ballots that were not considered by election judges. And nearly 800 provisional ballots — given to voters whose eligibility is in question — were improperly counted before eligibility was verified, officials said. Most of the problems were caused by untrained judges scanning ballots into the system that they shouldn’t have, said Linda H. Lamone, Maryland’s elections administrator. The state might not get to the bottom of every problem, she told the State Board of Elections. “There will be precincts that cannot be explained,” Lamone said. “We don’t know what happened. The numbers simply don’t match.”
The state’s top election official say she wants the General Assembly to consider reforming the way elections are supervised. Every city and town has at least two Registrars of Voters with paid staff, but there always seems to be a major problem. The report card on last week’s election shows a lot of A’s in most towns, some B’s for minor problems, and a big red F in the Capitol City. Second-grade kids at the Gilead Hill Elementary School in Hebron got to participate in Democracy Thursday, unfortunately it’s the adults that are messing it up. The kids were drawing the names of 77 voting districts across the state for the annual post-election audit. State law requires that 10-percent of the state’s 763 voting precincts be audited after every election.
Arapahoe County is piloting a vote-checking system this week that promises to raise the level of confidence in the accuracy of election results in Colorado. Elections officials gathered Wednesday at the county’s clerk and recorder office in Littleton to put the system — dubbed the risk-limiting audit — through the paces. The goal is to work out the bugs and have it ready for statewide rollout by election day 2017, as required by the state legislature. “The way we do audits doesn’t present a good enough picture,” Arapahoe County Clerk Matt Crane said Wednesday. “Our citizens deserve to know that we have a fair, transparent and accurate voting process.” The way a post-election audit of ballots is done currently requires a canvass team to pull at least 500 randomly selected paper ballots and compare the results to the tally recorded by the tabulation machines used in the election. Under the risk-limiting audit, random numbers generated by a software program will identify certain ballots to be pulled for inspection. The sample size is statistically determined based on the total number of ballots cast, the margin of the contest and the audit results as they unfold.
With a crucial deadline soon approaching to inaugurate a new president and an election ballot recount in a critical stage, fears are growing that Afghanistan’s fragile transition process could collapse into violence. The quickening pace of a protracted election audit and a flurry of meetings between aides to the two rival candidates this week have raised faint hopes that the country may have a new leader in office within the next two weeks, just in time to attend a NATO summit crucial to future foreign aid for Afghanistan. But Afghan and international observers here warn that the process could easily fall apart, with disputes persisting over the fairness of the ballot recount and the two candidates unable to agree on a division of power after a winner is declared. Under U.S. pressure, they agreed to form a national unity government with a president as well as a chief executive, but they differ strongly on the details.
Massachusetts, a state with a reputation for liberal politics, has what many consider outdated election laws. That is about to change as state legislators have approved a compromise bill that includes provisions long sought by advocacy groups. The legislation would authorize early voting up to 11 days before Election Day, create a system for online voter registration, allow 16-and 17-year- olds to pre-register to vote, and provide for postelection audits of randomly selected polling places to assure the accuracy of voting machines. Voting rights groups have long pushed for many of the bill’s provisions according to Pam Wilmot, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “The bill is really a terrific step for voters in Massachusetts. It will make it easier and more efficient to vote and encourage people to participate.”
Texas: Day before final election contest trial, Hidalgo County to hire voting machine expert | The Monitor
An investigation into criminal vote tampering took a step forward Tuesday as the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court approved a $110,000 appropriation for a grand jury to hire an election machine auditor. Commissioners approved the payment, which came from seized gambling funds at the District Attorney’s Office, to go toward a grand jury investigation. The grand jury is expected to hire a Chicago-based forensic analyst to investigate possible tampering with electronic voting machines used in the March 4 Democratic primary, said Murray Moore, a DA’s Office attorney supervising the case. The impact of the investigation on the six election challenges filed by unsuccessful primary candidates could be null. Some of the election contestants filed motions to have their trials delayed pending the grand jury-ordered analysis. But five cases have already been denied, and the sixth — that of Paul Vazaldua in the justice of the peace Precinct 2 Place 2 race — is set for trial Wednesday. “Basically, this is for the grand jury investigation only,” Moore said. The grand jury will hire Data Defenders, a Chicago-based election auditing firm, to conduct the analysis, Moore said. A man who answered the phone at the number listed on Data Defenders’ website declined comment Tuesday, saying he was too busy.
Venezuela’s Electoral Council has completed an audit of results from April’s bitterly contested presidential election, and as expected it confirmed Nicolas Maduro’s 1.5 percentage-point victory. No government official appeared publicly to comment on the outcome, but an official at the council confirmed on Sunday a report by the state-run AVN news agency that the audit supported the official vote count. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to divulge the information. The opposition has complained that the council ignored its demand for a full recount. That would have included not just comparing votes electronically registered by machines with the paper ballot receipts they emitted, but also comparing those with the poll station registries that contain voter signatures and with digitally recorded fingerprints.
Venezuela: Does Capriles Have a Plausible Claim, or Is He “Venezuela’s Sore Loser”? | Venezuelanalysis.com
Reuters reported Sunday that the president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) Tibisay Lucena has criticized opposition candidate Henrique Capriles for not presenting proof to back up his claims of fraud (also the focus of our post earlier today): “We have always insisted that Capriles had the right to challenge the process,” Tibisay Lucena, president of the electoral council, said in a televised national broadcast. But it is also his obligation to present proof.” She dismissed various opposition submissions alleging voting irregularities as lacking key details, and said Capriles had subsequently tried to present the audit in very different terms than the electoral council had agreed to.
Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has rejected official plans for an audit of the presidential vote that he narrowly lost to Nicolás Maduro this month. Capriles is calling for a fresh ballot, but this is certain to be refused by senior ruling party officials, who have threatened to have Capriles arrested for allegedly colluding with the US to foment unrest. The government detained 270 protesters during clashes that followed the disputed vote on 14 April. On Thursday it held an American film-maker who was accused of working for US intelligence to sow discord among students.
Wednesday, Henrique Capriles went on television to demand the CNE offer his data as part of the [election] audit. The government of Nicolás Maduro quickly insisted that all television stations go to cadena, [where all channels must broadcast the same message from the government] in order to broadcast a prerecorded infomercial accusing Mr. Capriles of instigating violence. This had the added effect of blocking the Capriles press conference from the few stations that were broadcasting it. Miguel has the specifics of Capriles campaign’s audit request from Venezuela’s CNE. Capriles wants the audit to look at who voted and how the fingerprint scanners that are supposed to prevent double voting functioned. For years, the opposition criticized the fingerprint scanners as an unnecessary intimidation while the government insisted the scanners are necessary to prevent voter fraud. So there is a bit of irony in that the Capriles campaign now wants the fingerprint data to be audited to look for voter fraud while the government is fighting against that effort as somehow unnecessary. Going through the voter records and fingerprint data is a completely legitimate request in the audit and within Capriles’s rights as a candidate.
The September issue of NCSL’s elections newsletter, The Canvass, addressed what I thought was a sleepy topic: post-election audits. (As a way to double-check that the procedures, voting equipment and vote-counting software yielded the correct result, election officials run a post-election audit by hand-counting the ballots from a random set of precincts or machines.) So I was surprised that this issue received more responses than politically-charged and publicly debated issues, such as those on Voter ID or Voter Registration.
We’re all familiar with Aesop’s Fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The cautionary tale taught us that intentionally lying about something has its consequences, and that those consequences can negatively impact the people around us. Crying wolf about the security of Montana’s elections is an intentional and deliberate attempt to decrease voter turnout by gaining support for laws that will restrict your right to vote. These false allegations of massive voter fraud have been tediously repeated despite all evidence to the contrary, and it’s time for the deceivers to start bearing the burden of proof. As your secretary of state, and chief elections officer, I take every allegation of election fraud seriously. I launched the “The Fair Elections Center” early in my term so that every Montanan could easily report a potential state election law violation. Every allegation is documented, reviewed and, if warranted, passed on to the appropriate authorities.
Editorials: Saving throw: securing democracy with stats, spreadsheets, and 10-sided dice | Ars Technica
Armed with a set of 10-sided dice (we’ll get to those in a moment), an online Web tool, and a stack of hundreds of ballots, University of California-Berkeley statistics professor Philip Stark spent last Friday unleashing both science and technology upon a recent California election. He wanted to answer a very simple question—had the vote counting produced the proper result?—and he had developed a stats-based system to find out. On June 2, 6,573 citizens went to the polls in Napa County and cast primary ballots for supervisor of the 2nd District in one of California’s most famous wine-producing regions, on the northern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area. The three candidates—Juliana Inman, Mark van Gorder, and Mark Luce—would all have liked to come in first, but they really didn’t want to be third. That’s because only the two top vote-getters in the primary would proceed to the runoff election in November; number three was out. Napa County officials announced the official results a few days later: Luce, the incumbent, took in 2,806 votes, van Gorder got 1,911 votes, and Inman received 1,856 votes—a difference between second and third place of just 55 votes. Given the close result, even a small number of counting errors could have swung the election. Vote counting can go wrong in any number of ways, and even the auditing processes designed to ensure the integrity of close races can be a mess (did someone say “hanging, dimpled, or pregnant chads”?). Measuring human intent at the ballot box can be tricky. To take just one example, in California, many ballots are cast by completing an arrow, which is then optically read. While voters are instructed to fully complete the thickness of the arrow, in practice some only draw a line. The vote tabulation system used by counties sometimes do not always count those as votes. So Napa County invited Philip Stark to look more closely at their results. Stark has been on a four-year mission to encourage more elections officials to use statistical tools to ensure that the announced victor is indeed correct. He first described his method back in 2008, in a paper called “Conservative statistical post-election audits,” but he generally uses a catchier name for the process: “risk-limiting auditing.”
The Massachusetts State House recently passed an election modernization bill that will make it easier for people to register to vote, increase the security and integrity of the vote counting process and welcome new young voters in Massachusetts. “This is a big victory. If this bill is passed by the Senate and signed into law by the governor, it will be the most significant reform to strengthen the vote-counting and voter registration processes in Massachusetts in 20 years,” said Avi Green, co-Director of MassVOTE. There are five main components of the Election Laws Reform Act. The first is mandatory training for local election officials. Municipal election officials must attend annual training given by the Secretary of State to keep current with state and federal election laws. Second, election audits will be performed in three percent of precincts, which will be randomly chosen after each election.
Florida: Wellington election: Judge approves request for hand recount for disputed election | OrlandoSentinel.com
Several dozen pairs of eyeballs will examine ballots from Wellington’s disputed election when a hand count begins at 8 a.m. Saturday in the county elections office, the finale — or so many hope — to a string of lawsuits and weeks of confusion over the voters’ choices for three village council seats. “Just get it done,” candidate Al Paglia said. “The sooner, the better.” On Wednesday, within a half-day of the village’s canvassing board deciding that a manual recount was the only way to swear in winners indisputably, seven Wellington residents filed a complaint in Palm Beach County Circuit Court asking for just that. Judge Robin Rosenberg on Thursday ordered a manual recount of the March 13 races, which yielded incorrect winners because of an apparent software error.
Puerto Rico’s election commission says it will for the first time in history recount thousands of votes cast during the island’s local primary last week following allegations of irregularities. Commission President Hector Conty said Tuesday that he ordered a recount after Puerto Rico’s two main parties accused each other of fraud and inflating the vote count.
Columbia County’s election commissioners have counted 100% of the paper ballots in every election for the past two years, ever since the county switched to using new voting machines as part of a federal mandate. Their approach can delay the final vote tally and it may seem an odd when technology has taken over so many manual tasks. But they question the accuracy of the results for the new machines and see no reason to stop checking them by hand. “The most accurate and reliable method is a 100% visual audit,” Elections Commissioner Jason Nastke (R) said Tuesday. He referred to multiple scanner miscounts in Greenport in a past election. “The machines are not completely reliable,” he said. “Hand counting allows for voter intent to be taken into consideration,” said Election Commissioner Virginia Martin (D). “If someone has circled rather than filled in the ovals, it counts when the ballots are hand counted, but with machine counting, the only allowed discrepancies involve machine error, not human error.”
An electronic ballot scanning device slated for use in the upcoming presidential elections, misreads ballots, fails to log critical events and is prone to freezes and sudden lockups, the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission has found. The little noticed EAC report on the DS200 Precinct Count Optical Scanner in the Unity 184.108.40.206 voting system built by Election Systems & Software (ES&S) was released late last month.
The 141-page Formal Investigative Report ( download pdf ) highlights multiple “substantial anomalies” in the DS200: intermittent screen freezes; system lockups and shutdowns; and failure to log all normal and abnormal system event. For example, the DS200 in some cases failed to log events such as a vote being cast, when its touch-screen is calibrated or when the system is powered on or off, the EAC said. In addition, the EAC report said the system failed to read votes correctly when a 17-inch ballot was inserted at an angle. The voter’s intended mark was either registered as a different selection or the vote was not registered at all, the EAC noted.
Weston has been randomly picked by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill as one of the 73 polling precincts to be audited from the Nov. 8 election — and no one in Town Hall is happy about it. “Am I happy about this? Of course I am not happy about it. This is ridiculous, it’s an unfunded mandate,” said First Selectman Gayle Weinstein.
The audit, which is a hand counting of votes, is required under Connecticut General Statutes and is done at random. A total of 726 polling precincts were open across the state election night, and 10 percent of those places were chosen for the audit.
Voting Blogs: What Price Accountability – and Who Pays? Weston, CT and Election Auditing | Doug Chapin/PEEA
The small town of Weston is unhappy after one of its precincts was randomly selected for a statewide audit of voting machines required under Connecticut law. Auditing laws have become more common in recent years in response to concerns about the accuracy of voting machines. The idea is that jurisdictions shouldn’t wait for recounts and close elections to assess the accuracy of their voting systems; rather, they should regularly test their machines to ensure that the number of votes counted match the number of votes cast. That seems sensible – and yet the implementation of such requirements inevitably creates new issues.
In Weston, the town’s displeasure is mostly related to the cost of conducting the audit. According to The Daily Weston, town officials estimate that hand-counting three races in the selected precinct will cost the town $2,500 to cover the cost of poll workers to do the count. Weston’s First Selectman calls the audit an “unfunded mandate” – and in one sense, she’s correct; there doesn’t appear to be any state funding for the costs of the audit. Deliberately or not, Connecticut has shifted the costs of accountability to its towns – and as budgets remain tight that may require a second look. If the State wants an audit but isn’t willing to pay, then towns are justified in asking whether such a requirement is fair.
Eleven years after the disputed 2000 presidential election thrust the subject of electoral integrity into the spotlight, many of the challenges that jeopardized that election remain unresolved, voting experts said at an MIT-hosted conference held Saturday.
The conference, “Election Integrity: Past, Present, and Future,” convened by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project (VTP), brought together election administrators, academics and technology professionals from around the country, and commemorated the 25th anniversary of the First National Symposium on Security and Reliability of Computers in the Electoral Process, held in Boston in 1986. A central theme of Saturday’s conference was election integrity: assuring that votes are both recorded and counted as they were cast.
… Of particular concern, said Pamela Smith, president of VerifiedVoting.org, is the use of Internet voting systems that cannot be audited. Another issue, which she illustrated with a map identifying the current equipment used by each state, is the inability of DREs to recount ballots in a close election. And many key swing states, she said, continue to use unreliable DREs.
Twenty-five years ago, as election officials around the country were discovering wondrous new ways to tabulate votes, a group of computer scientists got together in Boston for an impressively titled “First National Symposium on Security and Reliability of Computers in the Electoral Process.”
The session aired concerns about the integrity of computer-based voting methods and machines. In addition to computer scientists, the participants included election administrators from around the country, academics and equipment vendors. The subject remained fairly esoteric for several years until the 2000 presidential election, when voting machine irregularities and related incidents in Florida cast a bright light on the security of votes.
Two audits of South Carolina’s November 2010 general election found scores of human errors that led to incorrect vote counts and other problems. None of these errors were large enough to have changed the outcome of a election or referendum, but they were significant enough to prompt the State Election Commission to make several procedural and policy changes. The problems also emboldened the chorus of critics questioning the accuracy, reliability and accountability of the state’s iVotronic voting machines.
And they could prompt the Legislature to lengthen the time period between Election Day and when counties meet to certify the results. That added time would give counties extra time to audit their data before formalizing their tallies. State Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, has chaired a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee looking at elections and has reviewed the audits’ results. “The problem is these problems were uncovered after the election was certified,” he said. “Once an election is certified, it can’t be undone.”
Barbara Zia, co-president of South Carolina’s League of Women Voters, said the scrutiny of the state’s election system was triggered in part by the June 2010 Senate Democratic primary in which an unknown candidate who didn’t campaign won handily with 60 percent of the vote. The league’s recent audit — which requested information from all 46 counties under the state’s Freedom of Information Act — was an outgrowth of that.
During the last legislative session, a Senate judiciary subcommittee heard testimony from the State Election Commission and its critics about problems in the 2010 elections. The committee suggested that the two sides work together to recommend improvements to the process.
So far that hasn’t happened. Critics of the system, including the League of Women Voters, contend that the state’s electronic voting system is inherently flawed. The State Election Commission says the system is functional and that problems experienced in the last general election can be fixed.
Given the continuing disagreement over the electronic voting system, which is used throughout the state, an independent look at the situation is in order. The Legislative Audit Council ought to be given the task. A column on our Commentary page from former Clemson computer science professor Eleanor Hare cites problems with verifying data from the 2010 election.