How Do We Know? Two cases tell the tale

Bradblog has an instructive post bringing home the limitations and possibilities of optical scan paper ballot elections: Caught on Tape: Election Officials Behaving Badly <read>

As we have often said in Myth 9:

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


The law limits when the paper can be counted.

Brad brings an example from Ohio, where complying with a reasonable request could put legitimate concerns to rest:

Beiersdorfer is a geology professor, fracking expert and supporter of the anti-fracking initiative. As you’ll here, at the meeting of the Elections Board, he politely asked for a hand-count of paper ballots regarding the ballot initiative, after a post-election poll appeared to offer contradictory results to those reported by the unverified computer optical-scan tabulation systems used in the county. (An electronic tabulation system, I’ll note, which has failed in election after election elsewhere.) In response, Betras freaks out and charges that Beiersdorfer has accused him of “rigging an election”.

“You just basically accused this board of elections of election fraud!,” Betras, a Democratic, snaps in outraged response, as caught on tape. “I find it highly offensive you’d accuse me of a crime!” His fellow election commissioner, Munroe, a Republican, takes similar offense.

All of that, simply because a voter wished to oversee the results of an election to confirm that computer-reported results were accurate — in a town with a history of election problems and where some of the same election officials reportedly spent some $30,000 of tax-payer money in a failed effort to keep the initiative off the ballot in the first place (before being overruled by the state Supreme Court.)

Instead of satisfaction and confidence in government, Ohioans are left with suspicion and doubt.  Suspicion and doubt fueled by contradictory evidence, and the appearance of cover-up.

On the plus side, Brad points to a county in New York that demonstrates and alternative that provides confidence:

[Virginia]Martin, the Democratic co-chair of the Columbia County, NY Board of Elections — one of the few counties in the nation to publicly hand-count every paper ballot before certifying any election (my recent interview with Martin and her Republican co-chair on that specific topic is here) — explains on today’s show: “We election officials often find ourselves in the crosshairs. There’s always somebody in the public who’s not happy about something that’s transpired at the Board of Elections. There’s a winner and there’s a loser, so we often are in a position of having to defend ourselves. I can understand why they would be very sensitive.”

But, she adds, that type of concern simply doesn’t come up in her county, given that the public is invited to oversee the hand-count of paper ballots for every election. As an election official, she insists on hand-counts, she says, because: “I wasn’t comfortable with trusting what the computer said, because I know computers can make mistakes. I know that computers can be programmed incorrectly — inadvertently. I also know they can be manipulated, they can be tampered with. I personally can’t know how a computer counts anything, because I don’t get to see that. So how am I going to know that the result is correct?”

We do not insist on counting all paper ballots by hand after every election, yet it does automatically contribute to confidence.  We recommend sufficient post-election audits, close-vote recounts, and economical means for the public to access all paper ballots or cause selective publicly verifiable manual recounts.

For further details and links to videos and related posts, see the Bradblog post. <read>


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