Monday, August 13, 2007

President Urges Effective Election Audits

That's right. You heard it here first folks. In a July 24th letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), the President has come out for the competent and ethical use of statistical methods to assure the integrity of elections. (That's a real audit for those who haven't been paying close attention.)

In referring to Senator Feinstein's bill, S.1487, the letter states respectfully that effective election auditing may not necessarily be achieved by investigating a pre-specified percentage of votes or voting precincts. The President urges the Senator to replace the 2% audit requirement in her bill with “audits of sufficient statistical power to assure 99 percent discovery of a potentially outcome-reversing defect in the vote tabulation.” Imagine that -- The President!

Of course, I'm talking here about the President of the American Statistical Association (AmStat), Mary Ellen Bock, but hey, the Secretary of State has decided to require serious election audits recently too! Of course Debra Bowen is only the Secretary of the State of California. But we gotta start somewhere!

The President's letter can be found here and I would suggest sharing it with other members of Congress as well. They are on vacation now, so they should not be too hard to find back in their home states. And don't forget your State election officials! There is also a broader statement from AmStat about the many ways in which statistical methods can support the goal of highly reliable and verifiable election management. You can read that here, in the President's Corner.

As recently as a year ago, 2% audits were all the rage and with the exception of one State, North Carolina, in which the law says that the size of the sample is chosen to produce a "statistically significant result and shall be chosen after consultation with a statistician", no one in government was even considering anything other than ad hoc fixed percentages. Now, we have a bill in New Jersey, an edict in California, and a letter from the President of something!

It's almost as if some folks actually want to solve the electronic vote-counting problem after all.

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