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Bill Bored Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-11-08 10:39 PM
Original message
Election Audit Problems in Colorado
Edited on Sat Oct-11-08 10:48 PM by Bill Bored
If anyone's interested, here is what some of the grown-ups have been working on with respect to election integrity -- and it's HARD WORK!:

Posted by Neal McBurnett on October 11, 2008

Colorado needs to update its election auditing procedures. Rules that follow the "Principles and Best Practices for Post-Election Audits" at would be the best. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has put forward a good first step with these Post Election Manual Tally Requirements: and has responded to pushback from counties with these proposed emergency regulations:

In Colorado the problems are even worse than the exisiting California rules. Below is a list of places where Colorado doesn't follow the Best Practices. Colorado should follow the lead of Boulder County, which is addressing all of the following problems, as described at /.

Not really an audit

What the rule specifies Colorado to do on central count machines is not an audit of the election itself at all, but rather a recount of selected ballots on selected machines. I.e. the systems don't report the actual election day results broken down by batch for central-count machines.

The existing precinct-level reports can't be used, because in Colorado the physical mail-in ballots are typically all mixed together, not sorted into piles by precinct. When it comes time to audit a particular precinct from the report, the auditors would have to go through all of the mail-in ballots to find and audit the ballots for that precinct.

The alternative is for counties to sort the physical mail-in or early paper ballots into piles by precinct as they arrive. Many other states do this, although auditing the early votes on DRE machines remains a big problem, since the rolls of paper containing the VVPATs contain ballots from all precincts, mixed together.

The best solution is to either have the vendors do a simple report by batch, or find another way to generate audit reports containing the results of each physical batch of paper ballots, as Boulder does.

Random selection prior to auditable public results

The choice of which machines have been selected to be audited is available for misuse before the results to be audited are typically produced and shared with the public, since the SoS selects machines within 24 hours after the close of polls. Thus anyone intent on corrupting the results would have an opportunity to be sure to only corrupt them on machines that won't be audited.

Instead, the machines or batches to be audited should not be selected until clerks first publicly release the unofficial results for each contest on each machine (or batch). And that audit report is what should be audited.

Random selection not transparent

The selection should also should be in public, using dice (Cordero, Wagner and Dill 2006) or perhaps a publicly verifiable random selection method based on public random numbers. But it seems that software is used to do the "random" selection, and it is not clear how the public can be sure it really is random. In the 2008 Primary, races that were uncontested or not even in the right county were selected, as documented in my Boulder 2008 Primary Audit writeup.

Audit of central count machines too small, doesn't comply with the law

Only a small fraction of central-count ballots are audited in many counties (a maximum of 500 per central count machine even if it counts e.g. 40000 ballots - Rule - that would be 1.25%). This is not even the "specified percentage" which is specifically called for in Colorado Revised Statues 1-7-514: "where a central count voting device is in use in the county, the rules promulgated by the secretary pursuant to subsection (5) of this section shall require an audit of a specified percentage of ballots counted within the county."

Not a high enough percentage

Even in cases where there are 5% of ballots audited, the contests to be audited are spread out among all the machines to be audited, so very little auditing is done on each contest. E.g in Boulder County, 5% of the machines is perhaps 16 machines total, and the 71 contests to be audited are spread out over those machines. So only perhaps 5 out of the 71 contests in play will be audited on each machine selected, implying only 0.35% of the ballots per contest. Races that are uncontested are included in the selection, which is a waste of effort. California, by contrast, requires a 1% audit per contest.

Lack of paper audit trail in some counties

Some counties are not requiring that a paper record exist for all ballots, and those electronic DRE "ballots" can't be audited at all.

Wasteful focus on landslide contests, and little confidence for tight contests

The audit is wasteful for contests with a wide margin of victory and inadequate for races with a tight margin of victory, and is not designed to limit the risk of certifying an invalid result. State-wide contests that have a wide margin don't need much auditing at all - a Judge approval contest with a 32% margin might merit selecting only a half dozen machines state-wide, while a race with a one percent margin needs one or two hundred - more than one audit unit per county.
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Bill Bored Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-12-08 03:32 AM
Response to Original message
1. Forgot the link:
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BeFree Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-12-08 08:45 AM
Response to Original message
2. Help me out here, Bill
Edited on Sun Oct-12-08 08:45 AM by BeFree
You say:

"If anyone's interested, here is what some of the grown-ups have been working on with respect to election integrity -- and it's HARD WORK!:"

I can't make up my mind, maybe you can help. Are you saying that the adults auditing are accepting the machines as fait accompli and are working hard to do a work around that may never work, or are you saying that you are an adult who is working hard cutting and pasting articles?
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Bill Bored Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-12-08 12:04 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. I'm saying that a lot of work is being done to find ways of knowing if the machines are lying.
Edited on Sun Oct-12-08 12:18 PM by Bill Bored
Unless and until the machines are gone, this is the only way to know if elections are being stolen, or to deter the theft.

Since it's unlikely that they will be gone any time soon, i.e., THIS YEAR or next year, it stands to reason that the best we can do for the foreseeable future is to find out if they are lying or not in a legally actionable way.

But it's very hard work; it requires a great deal of thought and perseverance; the procedures and results have to be explained to those who haven't been doing the work, etc.

It's also VERY hard to even convince election officials and legislators that this is necessary, despite all the evidence. If they can't be convinced that the machines might be wrong, there is little hope of getting rid of the machines.

As to why I posted the article, that was to show just what kind of challenges this problem presents, and to get people to think about all that instead of the usual stuff like exit polls, HCPBs, central tabulators, etc. Only then will anything actually get done, in my opinion.

In fact, if the stuff in the OP is too much to handle, it might make a convincing argument for doing away with the machines, instead of other less-convincing arguments like exit poll discrepancies and so on. I.e., if it's too hard to find out if the machines are lying, then get rid of 'em!

On the other hand, if we can find out if they're lying, we might want to collect that EVIDENCE instead of just whining about the possibilities.

Make sense?
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BeFree Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-12-08 03:50 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. Perfect sense
Imagine that we can find 10 instances of the machines lying. And it is based on audits that are complete and well documented. Then we'd have a very strong case that would lead to states getting rid of the machines or at least ramping up audits for the next election.

Certainly the machine makers and their supporters are working hard to keep proper audits from taking place. It would cost them dearly. So one could imagine that these folks in Colorado are being obstructed at every turn, as all of us have experienced similar obstruction.

It seems we are stuck with these lemons. So what can we do? we make lemonade. Thanks to all who are doing so. Lets hope this year's batch is sweet and tasty, eh?

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Bill Bored Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-14-08 02:46 AM
Response to Reply #4
5. That's well said. And audits could even be ramped up in the current election if need be. nt
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Wilms Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-05-09 11:37 AM
Response to Original message
6. Kicking...

Because I can.

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