Author: Sean Flaherty
Post-election audits of electronic vote tallies are inexpensive. The process is simple: a sample of precincts (or batches of ballots that have been tallied electronically) is chosen randomly, counted by hand, and compared to the corresponding computer tally. To mention just two examples, North Carolina conducted an audit of the Presidential election in 275 precincts (almost 10% of the total precincts in the state) for a statewide total of $31,000, and Connecticut’s November 2008 audit costed 11 cents per audited race on each ballot.
Still, in these straightened times, States and counties with auditable voting systems might be concerned about the costs of manually counting ballots. In May, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission gave such jurisdictions excellent but little-noticed news: the Commission ruled that States may use Federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds to pay for the cost of post-election audits. The EAC concluded that funds allocated under either Section 101 or Section 251 of HAVA may be used to fund audits.
The EAC’s finding has particular significance for Illinois, Kentucky, and Washington State. Illinois’s audit law requires and audit of DREs, but allows a machine count of optical scan paper ballots, which comprise most of the votes in the Land of Lincoln. In Champaign County, the Clerk commendably conducts a voluntary manual audit of selected races; it appears from the EAC opinion that Champaign and other jurisdictions could receive Federal reimbursement for conducting this essential process.
According to data provided to Verified Voting by the EAC, Illinois had, as of early 2010, almost $18.5 million in unspent Section 251 funds, and had earned $7.5 million in interest on its total HAVA allocation; the cost of a manual count would be a small fraction of the state’s unspent HAVA funds, and the earned interest.
In Kentucky, election law has since 1986 required a manual count of randomly selected precincts representing 3% – 5% of the total ballots cast, but the law has not been enforced due to the widespread use of paperless DRE machines. In the last two years, most counties in Kentucky have switched to optically scanned paper ballots as the primary voting system; Verified Voting estimates that over 75% of Kentucky voters now live in counties that use optical scan as standard polling place equipment. According to the EAC, Kentucky had $12.8 million in unspent Section 251 funds as of early this year, and had earned $3.6 million in interest. With auditable voting systems, a law requiring audits, and ample Federal funds on hand, there is every reason for Kentucky to conduct a post-election audit in 2010.