Update: Greenwich Audit: Is it worth $1200 $480?

8/20/2010: Greenwich Time article Greenwich picked – yet again – to audit primary results <read>.  Greenwich registrars and Secretary of the State debate value of audit and random selection of Greenwich.

  • We note that Greenwich has about 24 voting districts. Everyone should expect that on a statewide 10% (or 5%) random selection audit, any city with that many districts will almost always have at least one district selected for audit.
  • In other states with audits, each county must audit a minimum number of districts and many of those counties are smaller than Greenwich in districts, population, and resources.
  • Contrary to the article, no candidate loses or picks up votes in Connecticut post-election audits. No matter how inaccurate the machine or human count, candidates would have to bring the matter to court and presumably ask for a recount to change the results in any way.
  • Looking at the web site for Greenwich we find that “They are also responsible for hiring and training over 200 official poll workers as well as maintaining all voting equipment used for the election.”  Which at $140 per poll worker would come out to $28,000. Actually we expect they pay lots more than that for the election, since the audit will certainly involve much less than a half a days work, compared to the 17 hour election day and training. Running an election, maintaining the equipment, printing ballots and the ongoing costs of voter registration and the registrars office would seem to dwarf the $1,200.
  • Even so, we are sympathetic to Greenwich and other municipalities. We are in favor of the state paying the cost of audits as the towns selected perform the work for every voter’s benefit.
  • Finally, those familiar with our Ten Myths In the Nutmeg State would understand that we do not find the Connecticut post-election audits all that stringent.  those familiar with statistics would understand also that it is not the percentage of the districts selected, but the total number of districts counted and number and size of loopholes that determine the power of an audit.

Greenwich picked – yet again – to audit primary results
Neil Vigdor, Staff Writer
Published: 09:53 p.m., Thursday, August 19, 2010

Greenwich’s election officials, have once again received marching orders from the state that they must perform an audit of last week’s primary results from Riverside School.

Six of the seven times since the state started mandating audits three years ago, the town has been picked for a recount, irking its two registrars of voters.

“We’ve been chosen every time,” said Sharon Vecchiolla, the town’s Democratic registrar. “We could do without it.”

Out of a total of 722 voting precincts throughout Connecticut, 73 were randomly selected by the secretary of the state’s office for an audit, which must be conducted between Aug. 25 and Sept. 15. “I was stunned Stamford didn’t get an audit,” Fred DeCaro III, the town’s Republican registrar.

The audit will take place at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 25 in the Town Hall Meeting Room, with eight paid poll workers hand-counting the ballots cast for lieutenant governor in last week’s Republican primary won by Mark Boughton over Lisa Wilson-Foley and the Democratic primary won by Nancy Wyman over Mary Glassman. Greenwich had 12 poll locations for the primary.

Under Connecticut law, election results from 10 percent of all voting precincts in the state must be audited after elections, a mandate that was put in place in three years ago when mechanical lever machines were replaced with electronic scanners. The fax-like machines read blackened ovals on paper ballots that resemble standardized test answer sheets.

“I think we wouldn’t mind if it was dropped to 5 percent of polling places instead of 10,” DeCaro said.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz defended the audit mechanism, saying that the threshold of 10 percent is the most stringent in the nation.

“I think it is a good check and important for voter confidence in our election system,” Bysiewicz said. “I think a high threshold of 10 percent is appropriate because that’s what the University of Connecticut’s computer science department recommended as a threshold that would ferret out fraud or a computer breach.”

The state not only relies on UConn for guidance on audit sample sizes, it sends the results there for a post-mortem and uses the university to test the memory cards in voting machines before elections.

Bysiewicz said that the electronic voting machines have a near 100 percent accuracy rate since they were introduced, except for isolated instances of human error by those casting ballots.

“It means not only that our votes are secure, but that our votes are counted properly,” Bysiewicz said.

A bingo barrel was filled with the names of all 722 polling places, with a representative from the League of Women Voters of Connecticut randomly drawing individual precincts one-by-one to be audited, according to Bysiewicz.

“There are many cities of good size that had more than one precinct and there are towns that had six,” Bysiewicz said. “Sometimes towns manage not to get chosen. The idea is over the course of time, every town has one or more precincts chosen.”

Bysiewicz noted that the city of New Britain once had nine polling places chosen all at once.

A total of 319 ballots were cast at Riverside School in the GOP primary for lieutenant governor, compared to 193 in the Democratic primary.

The cost of the audit to taxpayers was estimated at $1,200 by DeCaro, who said each person doing the hand counts will be paid $140.

After the November 2008 election was audited, John McCain picked up eight votes on Barack Obama in town, while Christopher Shays picked up 14 votes on Jim Himes for Congress. It was a moot point for McCain and Shays, however, who both lost their races.

No irregularities were discovered during the other previous audits done by the town, which occurred after the November 2007 municipal election, the February 2008 presidential primaries, the August 2008 Democratic congressional primary and the September 2009 Democratic tax collector primary.

Greenwich was not selected for an audit after last November’s municipal elections, while two Stamford precincts were.

Despite the hassle of conducting frequent audits, DeCaro said it was much better than the alternative of no checks and balances.

“I wouldn’t be in favor of eliminating the audits entirely,” DeCaro sad[sic].

Update: 9/26/2010 Audit actually took an hour and counters paid $60.00 each, not $140.00; Greenwich Time article <read>

Eight paid poll workers spent less than an hour hand-counting the ballots…The eight poll workers were paid $60 each to do the hand count, [$480.00 assuming the registrars are salaried]

And another Greenwich Time article where we completely agree the registrar: Greenwich registrar recommends audit of absentee ballots <read>

If the state is going to make cities and towns go to the trouble of auditing election results, Republican Registrar of Voters Fred DeCaro III said it should require absentee ballots to be included in hand counts.

Out of the 24,996 votes cast in the Aug. 10 primary in Greenwich, 2,330, or just under 10 percent, were done by absentee ballot, according to the registrars of voters.

All absentee ballots are counted by poll workers at Town Hall, not in the individual precincts where the voters live that are subject to state-mandated audits.

“Why not include absentee ballots?” DeCaro said Wednesday following an audit of the lieutenant governor primary results from Riverside School.

See my comments on both articles at the Greenwich Time site.

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