Statistician battles government to determine whether vote count is flawed

“Paper receipts are the obvious answer,” Ramasastry [associate professor at the University of Washington School of Law] said. “Florida gave recounts a bad name. But there is something much worse than a recount: the utter inability to recount votes, and reconstruct voters’ true intent, in light of a serious computer error.”

Actually slightly worse and even more suspicious might be having paper ballots and being barred from using them to verify elections.

A recent article in LJWorld.com [Lawrence Kansas] highlights the barriers put in front of a statistician looking to check election results by reviewing the paper record of the election: Kansas statistician battles government to determine whether vote count is flawed <read>

Wichita State University mathematician Beth Clarkson has seen enough odd patterns in some election returns that she thinks it’s time to check the accuracy of some Kansas voting machines.

She’s finding out government officials don’t make such testing easy to do.

When Clarkson initially decided to check the accuracy of voting machines, she thought the easy part would be getting the paper records produced by the machines, and the hard part would be conducting the audit. It’s turned out to be just the opposite.

“I really did not expect to have a lot of problems getting these (records),” Clarkson said. But Sedgwick County election officials “refused to allow the computer records to be part of a recount. They said that wasn’t allowed.”

Instead, Clarkson was told that in order to get the paper recordings of votes, she would have to go to court and fight for them…

Of course we are not in Kansas, we in Connecticut, where so far, nobody has gone to court and fully tested if ballots are actually public records open to public inspection.  As we said in Myth #9

Myth #9 – If there is ever a concern we can always count the paper.

Reality

The law limits when the paper can be counted.

  • Audits can protect against error or fraud only if enough of the paper is counted and discrepancies in the vote are investigated and acted upon in time to impact the outcome of the election.  See myths #1 and #2.
    • An automatic recanvass (recount) occurs when the winning vote margin is within 0.5%. The local Head Moderator moderator or the Secretary of the State can call for a recanvass, but even candidates must convince a court that there is sufficient reason for an actual recount.
  • Recounting by hand is not required by law. In early 2008 the Secretary of the State revised her policy of hand recanvasses.  We now recanvass by optical scanner.
  • In 2010, the Citizen Recount showed huge discrepancies in Bridgeport, never recognized by the ‘system’.
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