Minnesota Recount vs. Connecticut Recanvass

The Minnesota recount which started on November 19th goes on and will probably continue for several additional days, perhaps weeks. You can read about some of the details of the ongoing Minnesota senate recount at the blog of the Citizens for Voting Integrity MN <blog>

We ask:

  • Would this happen here, in Connecticut?
  • Should this happen here, in Connecticut?

Our tentative answers are:

  • Without changes in the law, this would not happen in Connecticut.
  • This should happen here, Democracy is worth counting every vote to the extent possible.

In Minnesota, as we understand it, they have six people at a table when votes are counted. Two election officials look at each ballot, checking each side for identifying marks that could invalidate the ballot – Connecticut has a similar law requiring ballots to be rejected if they have marks that could identify the voter. Their are two representatives for each of the opposing parties/candidates who observe the counting, who can object to the interpretation of the officials. The ballot is placed on a stack for one of the candidates, overvote, undervote, or contested. Then the stacks are counted. The contested ballots are reviewed again by candiate/party representatives and any remaining are finally ruled upon by the State Canvassing Board. A similar process is being implemented to review rejected absentee ballots to determine which, if any, should be counted. Eventually the State Canvassing Board will rule on the winner of the election. After that we can expect court actions from the losing candidate.

There are two major differences in Connecticut vs. Minnesota:

  • We currently recount by machine, rather than hand counting ballots.
  • Judging from the 2006 Courtney/Simmons recanvass, Connecticut’s process is much less rigorous, much less time consuming.

Until this year, Minnesota had a law that did not require recounting by hand, but they had always recounted by hand. This year the law was changed to require recounting by hand.

In Connecticut, we have always had a law specifying recanvassing machine totals by machine. After 2006. the Secretary of the State mandated recanvassing all votes by hand counting. In early 2008, she withdrew that mandate, reverting to the requirements of the law. When we have a future recanvass, votes judged by election officials as machine readable will be counted by machine and all others counted by hand.

Judging by what we observed in 2006, in just one town, and the training we received from one of the parties, the recanvass process in Connecticut is much less rigorous than that in Minnesota. When ballots are counted by election officials, designated observers can watch up close, take notes but not object to the classification of ballots. From the process we observed in one town, there was no check of the back of ballots, no considered review of each ballot, teams of two officials, one from each party quickly stacked and counted the absentee ballots. We did not observe an optical scan recount, but our understanding is that all originally optically scanned ballots were simply read through the machine again.

Our understanding in 2006, unproven in court, was that if either candidate/party had a problem with the conduct or rigor of the recount, they would have to convince a court to order a rigorous recount. Presumably such a recount would be, to some degree, close to the rigor we see in Minnesota.

The Minnesota recount was scheduled for two weeks, it will take much longer. Hand counting of ballots is a minor factor in that elapsed time. Given the rigor of assessing ballots, the actual counting by hand at most would seem to take, a small portion of the initial classification and counting effort, perhaps 20% of the time. Minnesota counted 40% of the ballots in two or three days. Even without more staff, it would seem that counting by machine would have only saved a day’s work and at most a day’s elapsed time in a process taking several weeks.

But our recanvass in Connecticut is much less rigorous. Counting by machine rather counting by hand might save 1/3 of the effort and 1/3 of the elapsed time.

Our current process of recanvassing is worthwhile, as demonstrated by the change in the Courtney/Simmons results and the recent reports of significant errors in the reported results of the November 2008 election. However, we believe that all voters in Connecticut deserve what the voters in Minnesota have: To have all our votes counted, accurately, and rigorously when the initial results indicate a close margin of 0.5%.

Update: We have a heard talking head on NPR, with no facts provided, state that MN proves that recounts are no more accurate than original election totals. That is the exactly the opposite of reality. The Duluth Tribune comes pretty close to matching our views: <read>

State view: Recount isn’t perfect, but it works

As the end nears in the U.S. Senate election recount in Minnesota, there is one fact everyone must realize: There is no such thing as a perfect election.

…No matter how well-trained our election officials are, no matter how much voter education we conduct, no matter how easy we make ballots, and no matter how well we build voting machines, and so on, there is one variable that we cannot control: human activity.

There will always be poll workers who make clerical errors. There will always be voters who misunderstand what they are supposed to do in order to vote legitimately. There will always be people who mark their ballots in unexpected and creative ways. And there will always be people who produce really screwed-up ballots that defy engineers’ attempts to create the perfect scanner.

That said, I think most Minnesotans would agree this election recount has demonstrated just exactly how very strong our state’s election system is in terms of the access people had to ballots, in terms of the privacy voters had at the polls, in terms of the accuracy of our voting technologies, and in terms of our overall election integrity.


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