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24-Step Checklist Offers Ballot Counting Standards

The Brennan Center for Justice

Election Experts Release “Ballot Accounting Checklist” for 2008 Election
Press Releases

– 09/29/08

For Immediate Release

24-Step Checklist Offers Ballot Counting Standards after Multiple Primary Miscounts

New York – In light of startling miscounts and vote losses in recent primaries in Florida, Ohio and Washington, D.C., today the Brennan Center for Justice, joined by Verified Voting and Common Cause, urged election officials across the country to practice smart, transparent ballot accounting in order to tally votes accurately and maintain public confidence in the 2008 election results. With the contributions of election officials, election administration experts and computer scientists, the Brennan Center also disseminated a "Checklist for Best Ballot Accounting Practices" that precincts and counties can follow both before polls open and after they close.

"In light of recent and highly publicized miscounts around the country, we urge election officials to check the math and take some basic steps to make sure all ballots are counted and accounted for," said Lawrence Norden, director of voting technology at the Brennan Center for Justice.

"All of the systems we use today have what are called redundancies—backup measures in the form of tapes printed from machines, poll books that record the number of people who signed in, and so on. We should be using these redundancies to make sure that mistakes or foul play do not result in wrong vote tallies on November 4th," Norden stated.

Three significant voting counting problems have emerged in primaries in recent weeks and are causes for serious concern about the integrity of vote counting on November 4th—particularly in the case of a close election:

First, on August 19th, Premier voting systems, formerly known as Diebold, acknowledged that the voting system used during the recent Ohio primary contained a critical programming error which led to the loss of votes as they were being totaled. When multiple memory cards containing votes from individual machines were uploaded at the same time to a central location, not all votes had been uploaded. Fortunately, critical post-election canvass and reconciliation processes discovered the problem before the vote was certified and all the votes were ultimately counted. Unfortunately, however, many states use this system.

Second, in the September 9th primary in Washington D.C., there were three different counts of the votes—and each time they came out differently, as reported by the Washington Post.

Third, in the August 26th Palm Beach County primary, several votes disappeared during a recount, and then reappeared in different measures upon a second and third recount.

"Many states and counties have already instituted the right procedures. But the recent meltdowns in these three primaries suggest that not every jurisdiction is using the built-in redundancies on Election Day to avoid problems that could undermine confidence in electoral outcomes," said Pam Smith, President of Verified Voting.

"These recommendations represent a minimum of what elections officials should do to account for all ballots and votes cast on Election Day. Election officials should also establish similar procedures for early and absentee ballots," Smith added.

The "Ballot Accounting Checklist" includes the following action items:

Compare the total number of votes cast to the total number of voters who signed in at the polling place. For both regular and emergency paper ballots, compare the number of voted, spoiled, and unused paper ballots with the number of ballots sent to the polling place.

Compare digital vote tallies from voting machines to vote total tapes.

Compare electronic tally server totals to vote total tapes generated from each voting machine.

Publish results of ballot, machine total, and memory card reconciliations.

24 Checklist Items total

"We realize that with Election Day just one month away, and early voting having already started in several states, this is an extremely busy time for election officials. But good post-election ballot accounting and reconciliation procedures will be critical to ensuring that every vote is counted, and counted only once," said Susannah Goodman, Director of the Election Reform Program at Common Cause.

"Administrators and officials from around the country have agreed that these practices will help pave the way to a smooth election. We hope county election officials will institute these steps, as a bare minimum," Norden concluded.

To view the Brennan Center's complete Best Ballot Accounting Practices Checklist, click here.


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