Statisticians, Political Scientists, Election Officials, and Advocates Recommendations to NIST

Last weekend I participated in a working meeting in Alexandria, VA to design pragmatic post-election audits.   One result was a letter to the National Institute of Standards and Testing (NIST) making suggestions for the Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines which they are in the process of updating.   I am one of two participants and endorsers from Connecticut <Letter>

Overview

Two key goals of vote tabulation audits are

-To verify that the election outcomes implied by the reported vote totals are correct, and
-To provide data for process improvement: specifically, to identify and quantify various causes of discrepancies between voter intentions and the originally reported vote totals.

Difficulty in obtaining subtotals of the machine tallies to compare with manually-derived totals from small batches of ballots is a major problem. Efficient vote tabulation audits require – in addition to software-independent audit trails – timely, comprehensive, detailed, standardized, machine-readable subtotals of the votes as recorded by the vote tabulation systems. For greatest efficiency, individual ballot interpretations should be available to support emerging methods that audit at the ballot level (that is, batches of size 1) without breaching confidentiality.

Future VVSGs should contain audit-related requirements for all voting systems, designed in consultation with experts in election auditing, to ensure that the next generation of voting systems facilitate election audits.

Key areas for standards include:

-Usability of the paper record
-Comprehensive reporting of all important data elements
-Small-batch or individual ballot reporting capability
-Machine-readable, standard election result reporting formats, with support for standardized identification of contests and candidates, –that facilitate aggregation for electoral contests spanning multiple jurisdictions
-Machine-readable, standard audit result reporting formats, including audit units selected and discrepancies found

Voting systems should make it easy to create detailed reports with subtotals by contest, by ballot batch, by precinct, or by scanner or tabulation machine.

One common, standardized data format is needed for reporting audit results, as well as initial election results. Implementation details are outside the scope of this letter; election auditing experts should participate in specifying these requirements.

In summary, we strongly recommend that the next version of the VVSG support auditing election outcomes by facilitating small-batch reporting in standardized electronic reporting formats, and usable voter-verifiable cast vote records.

One a personal note, it was great to meet in person several political scientists, officials and advocates whom I’ve know only from frequent email and conference call presentations; see again, those I have met previously; and meet several additional scientists, advocates, and officials dedicated to election integrity.

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