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General News    H2'ed 11/14/08

Election 2008: Spotlight on Minnesota

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This manual audit will wrap up tomorrow, with its official report expected some time next week. We can ascertain the accuracy of all of the different vendors’ optical scanners used across the state. Halvorson points out: “This oversight in the law [also] gives us a rare opportunity to compare the audit alongside a recount.” Just how rare are Minnesota recounts? Almost as rare as hens’ teeth. Except for a judicial race several months ago, the last Minnesota recount was back in 1962 when it took 139 days to determine the winner of the governor’s race.

Halvorson is quietly confident they are up to the task. He proudly points to Minnesota’s history of solid election administration: paper ballots as the official ballot of record, an enlightened Secretary of State, key legislators like Bill Hilty – author of the manual audit law, same day registration, a recount law, and even a partial discretionary recount law.

Many states could learn a lot from Minnesota’s quest for fair and accurate elections. Halvorson and CEIMN worked with New Jersey to develop what is now considered the gold standard of post-election audit laws. (The New Jersey law is based on the ideas in the document “Audit Principles and Best Practices” that Halvorson promotes to help guide states in drafting new or improved audit laws.)  Ironically, since the Garden State currently uses paperless touch-screen machines, there is literally nothing to audit. Their audit law may be the best there is, but it’s all dressed up with no place to go.

So, it’s a stroke of luck that New Jersey wasn’t the one with the contested race. The same goes for numerous other states. Mississippi and Hawaii have no recount provisions at all. Other states regard the electronic vote as the official vote, offering no reason for confidence in the official vote totals. In those cases, the machines essentially check themselves, a mockery of the crucial concept of checks and balances.

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Everyone – skeptics from both parties as well those from the election protection movement and just plain citizens – wants to be assured that these votes have been counted accurately. What isn’t caught by the audit should be picked up by the wider reach of the recount.

In terms of getting to the bottom of this senate race and determining who will be the ultimate victor, we’re fortunate that this close contest happened in Minnesota. In a few weeks, we’ll know a lot more about the fitness of this system of electronic optical scanners and the integrity of our vote, at least in Minnesota.


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*Bev Harris, founder of Black Box Voting, offered the following comments via email:   

The process being used to evaluate elections is not an audit. It is a spot check. Real audits incorporate a review of checks and balances. If procedural checks and balances are not in place,or are supposed to be used but were not followed,the auditor disclaims any opinion on the accuracy of the results, whether or not the numbers match.

It is nice to spot check voting machine results, but if you don't do a concurrent evaluation of whether the seals match, and whether there was adequate segregation of duties, and whether the so-called checks and balances actually check and balance, you really have no idea whether you are spot checking authentic information.

Thanks to Ellen Theisen for her help on this article.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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