CT IRONY #4: Machine Errors Result In Recounting By Machine

In reviewing Connecticut’s post-election audit law, we discovered another irony, perhaps one of those unintended consequences.  What happens when an audit discovers a large discrepancy in a race that could reverse the election result if that same error were present in other optical scanners?

(f) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 9-311, the Secretary of the State shall order a discrepancy recanvass of the returns of an election or primary for any office if a discrepancy, as defined in subsection (o) of this section, exists where the margin of victory in the race for such office is less than the amount of the discrepancy multiplied by the total number of voting districts where such race appeared on the ballot, provided in a year in which the Secretary of the State is a candidate for an office on the ballot and that office is subject to an audit as provided by this section, the State Elections Enforcement Commission shall order a discrepancy recanvass if a discrepancy, as defined by subsection (o) of this section, has occurred that could affect the outcome of the election or primary for such office.

For those not familiar with Connecticut law, a recanvass is our substitute for an automatic recount when election contests are close.  It make sense to recount an entire race if an audit discovers errors in some districts and if those errors were common across the districts might change the election results.  How does our recanvass work?

It is a modified machine recount:

(e) The new memory card shall be installed in the tabulator, the tabulator shall be installed on an empty ballot box, the pre-election testing procedures should be followed to prepare the new tabulator for use and a record shall be made. The test ballots shall be removed and packaged.

(f) After the tabulator is properly tested and those present agree that the tabulator is properly set, the tabulator shall be set in election mode. When the machine prints the election zero report, check that it identifies the town or voting district and the office and candidates being recanvassed. The report shall be signed by the moderator and registrars and left attached to the tape in the machine…

(l) The recanvass officials of opposing political parties shall remove all other ballots in the ballot transfer case (except any ballots marked “spoiled ballots” from a polling place in which the marksense machine was used for polling place voting). They shall examine all these ballots which were machine counted on election day to determine whether the markings for the office being recanvassed are sufficiently clear to be read by the machine. (See examples of properly and improperly marked ballots in this handbook as a guide) Also, if a stickered race is being recanvassed, make sure that early absentee ballots issued without the corrected name are not machine counted. If any such error or defect is found, the ballot should be set aside for hand counting of the races involved in the recanvass. If two recanvass officials of opposing political parties agree that such ballots are sufficiently clear to be read by the machine, such ballots shall be processed through the machine

Possibly some machine problems might be mitigated by such a recanvass, yet if there were an error in memory card programming or an error in the software it is quite likely the same discrepancy would be repeated.

It was not always this way.  The recanvass procedures written in the fall of 2007 just after Connecticut purchased optical scanners statewide called for complete manual count for racanvasses.  <Oct 2007 Recanvass Manual>

§ (e) The new memory card shall be installed in the tabulator, the tabulator shall be installed on an empty ballot box, the pre-election testing procedures should be followed to prepare the new tabulator for use and a record shall be made. The test ballots shall be removed and packaged.

§ (f) After the tabulator is properly tested and those present agree that the tabulator is properly set, the tabulator shall be set in election mode. When the machine prints the election zero report, check that it identifies the town or voting district and the office and candidates being recanvassed. The report shall be signed by the moderator and registrars and left attached to the tape in the machine.

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