What I learned at the Post Election Audit Summit

Update 10/31: 1) Some grammar improvements courtesy of D. Weeks. 2) The good news: Connecticut is a Voter Intent State. 3) The not so good news: Connecticut does not require that andit or recount observers be able to viably verify that paper ballots are counted correctly. Thanks to Ted Bromley of the Secretary of the State’s Office for answering these questions.

I have just returned from the Post Election Audit Summit. A unique and powerful event which brought together stakeholders in election audits including computer scientists, statisticians, election officials, legislators, and advocates.

One of the main themes was “Better Together” taken from a book of that title. By meeting in an open, respectful atmosphere we could each be open to share concerns, ideas, successes, and failures. I found the entire event extremely stimulating and educational. We will be able to create better proposals which provide greater voter confidence at less cost, while mitigating concerns of other stakeholders and helping them meet their goals and responsibilities. I am left with much more to do, yet with the tools to provide election integrity and confidence at a higher level with more velocity than was possible three days ago.

Stay tuned for new announcements in the next two weeks about a citizen audit observation project for the November Connecticut post-election audits. The greatest value of your volunteering for the project is the opportunity and pride of actually participating in democracy.

Let me list, in no particular order, some of the things I learned and re-learned at the Summit:


The Secretary of the State of California, Debora Bowen, has taken the initiative to institute post-election audit standards which are particularly noteworthy in their clear language and strict criteria for classifying variances and triggering further audits. (Expect a detailed analysis here soon).

Significant value can be gained by developing a standard vocabulary to describe, classify, compare, and evaluate audit methods and laws. Everyone kept using and repeating the distinctions of “Hot” and “Cold” audits mentioned by Doug Jones. Doug pointed out that the source was the Carter-Baker Commission.

I have frequently questioned the accuracy and significance of Secretary Bysiewicz’s repeated claim that Connecticut has the strongest audit law in the country, based on a single aspect of the law. I discount our law by the multiple loopholes, few races audited, inadequacy of coverage for audits below the congressional district level, and unjustifiable barriers to triggering expanded audits. However, I leaned that we do have at least one provision that is exemplary: PA 07-194 requires an automatic manual recount when the margin is less than 0.5%. That is missing in many other state audit laws, even California’s new regulations.

There are two principles that we need to check in Connecticut law: 1) Are we a “Voter Intent State”, if so, the PA 07-194 would seem inadequate to support that standard. If not, then we should be. 2) Is it required that observers have the opportunity to visibly verify that audits and recounts are classifying votes correctly. If so, then this is often violated; if not, then we should have that visibility requirement. (expect future reports here)

We should “expect audits to find errors” – the public should be educated that not all errors or inaccuracies are significant. My corollaries: 1) If there are no errors found, then audits are highly suspect. 2) Saying the machines performed ‘flawlessly’ or ‘perfectly’ when there were small errors, sets the wrong expectations and can lead to less public trust in the long run.

One speaker suggested that often the voting system can be similar to the medical system, where errors are covered up rather than surfaced. We should celebrate officials who surface errors. We should be careful how and when we punish those who make and report errors, especially those who swiftly acknowledge their own mistakes and errors.

Audits costs – another example provided by a panelist: Cost of conducting election $3.38 per ballot. Cost of audit $0.08 per ballot.

“All politics is local” – Tim O’Neill
“All politics is personal” – Cisco McSorley, State Senator, New Mexico
Legislators have pasts and relationships, just like advocates, that can effect our actions.

Keynote Speaker, Fritz Scheuren, Past President American Statistical Association:

– Murphy’s Corollary – “If you did not check it, it did go wrong”

– Systems Thinking [about voting systems]:
— Appreciation of Complexity
— No Single Systems Owner
— Political Party Rule
— Media Roles
– -Voters Trust and Participation [our goals]

In negotiations, as trust develops, the talking becomes more open and cooperative. Trust reduces incentives to posture and play to the crowd, and it makes possible the kind of creative risk taking that leads to to generate or support bold new options for solutions. – John Graham, The Giraffe Heroes Project

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