Nationwide Audit of 1% of Votes Cast Could Give 95% Confidence in Election Results

In year plagued by hacks, breaches and claims of “rigged” elections, national audit offers simple way to restore confidence in electoral process

Days after an unexpected outcome in the presidential election, a leading voting security group is reinforcing its call for a national post-election manual audit to validate computer-generated election results. In the months leading up to the election federal authorities issued unprecedented warnings regarding the computer security of the U.S. election system following revelations that over 20 states’ voter registration systems and a Florida voting system vendor were targeted by foreign cyber attacks. Federal officials acknowledged that the system vendor and four states’ voter registration databases were compromised by hackers including Illinois and Arizona.

“This national election was held under an unfortunate cloud of uncertainty due to documented attacks on U.S. election systems and claims of rigging before votes were even cast,” said Verified Voting President Pamela Smith. “In order for democracy to work, we all need to believe in the system that elects our leaders. Voters must have assurance their ballots will be counted the way they intended to cast them—especially in a time when so much doubt has been cast on the electoral process. Luckily, there’s an easy way to do this: a post-election audit that manually examines a random sample of the ballots.”

Almost all ballots cast in the U.S. are tabulated by computers; software is vulnerable to errors, bugs, malware and attacks. The security breaches identified in the months before the election led national security experts in both the federal government and private sector to issue unprecedented warnings about the cyber security of U.S. voting systems. In an extraordinary move, the Department of Homeland Security partnered with state and federal election officials in an effort to shore up voting system security following the disclosed attacks.

A nationwide audit of about 1.4 million ballots–just over 1% of the votes cast– could give 95% confidence that each state’s result is right. About 25% of Americans voted on equipment that does not produce an auditable paper record, mostly in Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, and New Jersey. But votes cast by the other 75% are on paper ballots or paper records voters have the chance to check, and those can and should be checked in every election.

Audits manually examine voter intent on ballots and check to see if it concurs with automated vote counts. Audits could catch possible errors in the computerized vote tally, should any exist. Audits are endorsed by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, Verified Voting, Common Cause, League of Women Voters, the American Statistical Association, and others.

“This is an opportunity to demonstrate why audits are so valuable in ensuring voter confidence. Every election is important, and we have called for regular audits for more than a decade. In a year like this one with disparate polls and talk of rigging, audits could not be more opportune. Post election audits already are used in about half the states, but should happen everywhere,” said Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections at Common Cause.

“In the current climate of concern, the time is right to move this essential check on our election system forward,” said Smith. We call on all Americans to urge their state and local election officials, and state and federal lawmakers to join in a national post-election ballot audit –not just this time, but every election—so that all can have assurance that election results are correct.”