Random drawing issues in the Nutmeg State

As CTVotersCount readers know, Connecticut is known as the “Nutmeg State” based on the legend of Yankee Peddlers selling wooden nutmegs to unsuspecting New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians.  True or not, there is little reason to trust anyone here when it comes to random drawings.

Lets start with the Lottery and the Lotto game.  You could say it is a glitch in the system that allowed vendors to cheat. You would be correct, yet that is not the whole story.  Lotto officials knew about the glitch for some time without disclosing or addressing it.  But don’t feel bad for officials who are likely “draw” a healthy pension. <read>

Then there are the publicly funded charter schools led by the miraculous Capitol Prep, led at the time by the self-proclaimed “America’s most TRUSTED Educator”, Steve Perry.  It seems the miracle may well be due more to lottery prep than trust in the drawing itself (although we have no reason to trust the drawing itself)  <read>   Then again you don’t need a phony lottery  and any preparation to get ahead in Connecticut education – you can wait and cheat on the tests. To avoid proclaiming yourself, let NPR do it: <read>

Which brings us to elections and the Connecticut random audit drawing.  What could possibly go wrong?

Up until this point the Connecticut post-election audit drawing has essentially used a barrel with slips of paper to draw districts for the audit. Unfortunately, it could be that officials use an inaccurate list of districts to make the slips.  It has happened Post-Election Audit Flawed from the Start by Inaccurate List of Election Districts <read> Fortunately that problem has been addressed <read>  Perhaps they can be eliminated completely if the new Election Night Reporting System is used as a basis for the district list in the future.

Yet two problems remain.  First, the drawing list is not publicly verifiable.  In the Bysiewicz Administration, advocates were solicited to arrive before the drawing and check that every district listed was actually placed in the barrel. Somehow that was dropped by the Merrill Administration.  Second, drawing from a barrel is not all that random – observed by the public it may be completely above board, and yet not be random.  It is difficult to shuffle/mix slips of paper such that they are actually random – slips printed together tend to stay together and thus there is a correlation where some, say from the same municipality, tend to be selected or not selected.

There are better ways of selecting districts in a more transparent way. Last year the Citizen Audit suggested solutions to the Secretary of the State’s Office based on a request by former Deputy Secretary, James Spallone:

Post-Election Audit Drawing Transparency and Randomness

We have concerns with the transparency and the randomness of the random drawing.  There is a single effective solution that would improve the credibility of the drawing, the audit, and our elections.

Concerns – Transparency:  We don’t mean to suggest a lack of integrity in the drawing or of any person, yet there is now a hole in the transparency of the drawing which precludes public verification.  When the drawing was initiated in 2007 and for several years thereafter, observers were invited to come early and check each and every ticket placed in the raffle barrel to make sure the tickets in the barrel matched those on a list of districts provided.  Once the drawing changed from business cards to strips of paper, that part of the process was also dropped.

Concerns – Randomness:  
Statisticians have concerns with the actual randomness of drawings from a raffle barrel.  Strips of paper representing districts for the same town tend to stay together, thus increasing or decreasing their odds of being selected.  From past drawings that the variation in the number of districts in towns selected in each drawing it seems from experience may have been way out of proportion (high or low) than would have been likely the case with a truly random selection.

A Single Solution: 
Change to a random selection, by numbering districts sequentially on a list from 0 to the number of districts (about 730).  Then select the districts for audit by throwing three 10-sided dice, or a system similar to the CT Lottery drawing.   A 5% audit would entail about 50 casts of the three dice, given that there is about a 70% probability that each cast would provide a useable unique selection. An example of doing this method is from the San Francisco Department of Elections, in the following videos:
Side view video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdWL8Unz5kM
Overhead view video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sufb7ykByWA


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