Reporting Error In Westport News Story

Story in Westport News: Audit ensures election accuracy <read>

In the last couple of weeks there have been perhaps a dozen  local news stories covering the post-election audits around the state.  For the most part we have not posted or commented on them here as they are usually reports prior to the audits and authored by the local Registrars covering the basic facts of the audit and the town’s selection.  Yet this report from Westport deserves attention because it is actual reporting by a reporter at the audit, it makes one significant error, and it has been linked from some national voting news sites.  (As some readers may not be aware, CTVotersCount is a member of the Connecticut Citizen Election Audit Coalition where I also serve as Executive Director.)

From the Westport News:

There were 12 people who had a hand in the audit, including the town’s Democratic and Republican registrars of voters, Nita Cohen and Judy Raines. Some people had the task of counting the ballots. Others had to watch them count. Two monitors hired by the state had to watch people count and also watch the people watching them count.

In fact:

  • Rather than state officials, the two observers present were unpaid volunteer observers from the Coalition, which itself is entirely an unpaid volunteer operation.
  • Checking with our observers and the Westport Registrars’ Office, we understand that accurate information was given to the reporter and that the registrar was misquoted in the story.
  • With perhaps 130 audit observations to date, our observers have never reported the presence of an observer from the State.  The State, as far as we know, does not observe the local audits and bases all of  its reports on data supplied from the registrars and investigations not open to the public:

The next step will be to forward the report to the University of Connecticut for analysis of the accuracy of the tabulators. After their analysis is written, it’s then sent back to the Secretary of State. Finally, it’s passed along to the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

Our observers also report precious few sightings of the media at audits, for that we appreciate the Westport News for sending a reporter.

Based on past observations, Westport election officials deserve applause for their consistent performance in the organization of their audits. Past observation reports show that many towns fall short in conducting audits in a way that provides data sufficient to judge the accuracy of election results.

Registrars in Westport, like those in many towns are concerned with the costs of the audit:

All of this was required by the state. Most of it was paid for by the town. The total cost came to $1,388…In an interview with the Westport News, Cohen noted just how important everyone’s role is in an audit and other aspects of elections, despite the tediousness and “labor intensive” nature of the process.

We believe the audits are a small. critical, incremental investment. The statewide cost of audits represents less than 10% of the costs of printing the paper ballots. We estimate $72,000 in Nov 2008 for local audit activities vs. more than $750,000 for ballots in that election.   Both of these costs are small when compared to the total costs of conducing elections, not to mention the risk to democracy if the voters intentions are not consistently realized in the official election results.  In Federal elections billions of dollars and thousands of lives are at stake.  In local elections millions of dollars, eminent domain issues, education, and quality of life are at stake

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