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Fooled Once: Checking Vote Count Integrity

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Message Kathy Dopp

This new report "Fooled Once: Checking Vote Count Integrity" mathematically analyzes the proposed Holt and Nelson election audits and finds that they would not protect all US House races:

An increasing number of Americans have become concerned with whether or not electronic machines accurately record and count votes.

To require voter-verified permanent paper ballots and increase voter confidence and accessibility, U.S. Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida have sponsored virtually identical bills that are intended to correct some of the significant, if unintended consequences of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Kathy Dopp, President of National Election Data Archive, recently met with Congressional staffers in Washington DC to recommend changes to the proposed federal election integrity bills - statistically valid election audits and public access to election records necessary for citizen oversight.

Election officials in most states have not subjected election results to independent outside audits – visual inspections of randomly-selected voter-verified paper ballots.  When a race is close, a small number of miscounted votes can alter the outcome and a robust audit is needed to find miscounts which could be hidden in a few precincts. Tiered election audits are audits which manually count more precincts in close races.

While there are several identified concerns with the Holt and Nelson bills, Ms. Dopp and the National Election Data Archive have released a report "Fooled Once: Checking Vote Count Integrity" evaluating the sufficiency of the Holt and Nelson audit provisions.

According to Dopp, the Holt/Nelson election audits ignore the variety in the amount of precincts in U.S. House districts. For example, a 10% audit in an 800-precinct House district requires an audit of 80 precincts, whereas a 10% audit in a 150-precinct House district triggers an audit of only 15 precincts, resulting in statistically insufficient power to detect miscounts in a close race where fewer than 1 in 15 miscounted precincts could alter the outcome.

A group of university professors wrote a letter in support of Holt's audit proposal, "Thoughts on Mandatory Audits". Dopp's says that her calculations agree with the professors' for the few cases that the professors evaluated but that their analysis was restricted only to U.S. House races with 400 total precinct vote counts for only a few selected margins; and did not consider House races with closer margins or smaller number of precincts.

"Fooled Once: Checking Vote Count Integrity" shows how to evaluate the effectiveness of proposed election audits by plotting colorful charts of the probabilities for protecting race with particular margins between the leading candidates against the total number of precincts for Congressional districts.

According to Dopp, the Holt and Nelson audit provisions would not protect many U.S. House races where "protected" means that there is at least a 50% chance of discovering miscount under the assumption that sufficient miscount exists to alter an outcome.

"Fooled Once: Checking Vote Count Integrity" suggests alternatives designed to protect all U.S. House races, including an alternative to fix the Holt and Nelson audit by requiring minimum numbers of precincts to be audited. To protect all U.S. House races, a larger audit rate is necessary for districts with a fewer precincts.

As with all legislation, cost is a consideration. Therefore an accurate cost estimate for conducting nation-wide manual audits of federal elections is needed. Dopp says that Congressional staffers asked her to calculate cost estimates for nationwide audits of federal elections, but that election data, including the margins and number of total precincts for all recent U.S. House and Senate races, is necessary for each state and for recent elections in order to perform the calculations.  States are not required to collect or publicly release precinct-level election results (or other vote counts and election records necessary for public oversight of elections) so that the data must be obtained from an organization like Election Data Services (EDS).

Tax-deductible donations to defray the $1,500 necessary to obtain the data from Election Data Services that is necessary to estimate the costs of auditing federal elections, would be very much appreciated and donations are accepted at to help ensure the integrity of U.S. election outcomes.

The full report with charts and tables "Fooled Once: Checking Vote Count Integrity" can be found at:

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Kathy Dopp Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Founder and President of US Count Votes, dba The National Election Data Archive and volunteer for honest, accurately counted elections since 2003. Masters degree in mathematics with emphasis on computer science. Has written numerous academic and (more...)
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