EDITORIAL: General Assembly heading the wrong way on post-election audits


UPDATE: The bill passed the House unanimously, including several who responded to your emails with promises they would not vote to cut the audits.

The Connecticut Senate has passed S.B. 252. If the House passes and the Governor signs the bill it will be another national embarrassment for Connecticut, doing the wrong thing at precisely the worst time.

S.B. 252 would cut our post-election audits from 10% of voting districts to 5%. S.B. 252 was originally intended to strengthen the audits, while providing savings for municipalities. The current version eliminates all the features in the original bill that would make the audits stronger. The current version saves, at most, just $15,000 more annually statewide over the original bill.

Those paying attention to the news in this primary season have heard many charges of potential election fraud, along with calls for post-election audits in Arizona, New York, and elsewhere. There is an embarrassing video of a faulty presidential primary post-election audit in Chicago, where the public was barred from observing the votes as they were being tallied by officials. Worse the counters had the original numbers in front of them. When their counts did not match by a wide margin, they added counts to one candidate and deleted counts from the other, so that the manual counts would exactly match the machine counts. Over the years there have been similar problems with the audits in Connecticut.

For the first couple of years in the Connecticut audits, some local officials barred the public from observing the ballots as they were counted, some made it very difficult for the public to determine the time and place of the audits. Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz fixed those problems in procedures, which officials have since followed, for the most part. Other problems have not been effectively addressed.

The Citizen Audit’s observations of Connecticut’s audits have shown that many are conducted well, yet many are not. Many are, at best, only marginally better than the one in the video from Chicago. Connecticut election officials often do not double check counts; they are often aware of the original totals as they count, and work to match machine counts rather than accurately count the paper ballot votes. Frequently officials use confusing, ad-hoc, non-transparent methods for combining totals from multiple ballot stacks and teams of counters. Local officials in their reports and the Secretary of the State’s Office in statewide reports attribute all differences in counts to “Human Error”. The last official statewide report released by the Secretary of the State was for the November 2011 election. Five years is too long to wait for reports on a critical aspect of democracy.

S.B. 252 is still entitled “An Act Concerning Post-Election Audit Integrity and Efficiency”. The original proposed bill was the result of a long negotiated compromise which would have strengthened our audits in return for a reduction in the audit of polling place optical scanners, a change long sought by the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut (ROVAC). Among other reforms to strengthen the audits, the bill would have subjected centrally counted absentee ballots to audit, subjected originally hand counted ballots to audit when there were large numbers of them, mandated investigations of significant discrepancies in counts, required stronger ballot security, and timely reporting of results by the State. Municipalities would have saved 40% of their current costs, reducing relatively low annual statewide audits costs from at most $150,000 annually to less than $90,000. The revised, one-sided, bill provides none of the benefits while providing just $15,000 more in annual savings across all municipalities in the State.

We have voter-verified paper ballots. To be valuable and provide confidence they must be used for strong, publicly verified, post-election audits. You can help. Tell your legislators that you want stronger audits, not weaker audits. Tell them to oppose S.B. 252. Then consider volunteering one day after each election and primary to observe with the Citizen Audit.

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