Friday, December 14, 2007

Post-Election Auditing: A View From The "Summit"

They say it's lonely at the top but here are a couple of videos from the first-ever "Post Election Audit Summit" held near the Twin Cities back on Oct. 25-27, 2007.

So far, accounts of this event have been pretty spotty. There was some "coverage" by a blogger in California who says he wasn't there, and a bit more from folks who were there (or who got pretty close at least). This apparent lack of publicity has fueled speculation that this event was supposed to be some kind of secret.

But before you light your torches and sharpen your pitchforks, let me say that the organizers wanted this event to be as open as possible, despite the limited space that required it to be invitation-only; so they made some videos. I thought it might be a good time to break this unintentional silence before this thing starts taking on the guise of a "Skull & Bones" initiation.

I was honored to be a panelist at this event, which meant I got a whole seven minutes to explain how to audit electronic vote counts without upsetting any election officials. That turned out to be the easy part, although I did feel a little pressed for time.

As I see it, the point of this little shindig was to explain to some of the (mostly friendly) powers that be that:

  1. It's not them we don't trust -- it's the software!
  2. We can deal with this mistrust by not relying too heavily on the software.
  3. We can show them how to do this, to the advantage of all stakeholders by using statistically accurate fair and efficient post-election audits, especially if they're conducted "on the ground" rather than up at the "summit."
Unfortunately, some folks who weren't on the guest list were quite upset about this, and I and some others are also concerned about that. I'm not one of the organizers of this event -- just a grunt panelist -- but I can attest to the fact that there really was limited space (for about 100 people), so it was not possible to invite everyone who could have contributed or benefited.

And let's face it: some folks in the Election Integrity "community" have burned more bridges than Madison County! So not everyone got the call.

One of those who did is my colleague and co-author Arlene Ash from Boston University. She has a PhD in Mathematics, but also a way with words. And although she likes to edit most, if not all, of my work when it comes to post-election auditing (you can even see her do this during my LIVE performance in the second of these videos!), she usually comes up with something very constructive.

So here's Arlene's talk, in which we learn, among other things, that auditing elections is a lot like tasting soup. You can follow along with her slide show as you watch the video:

And here I am trying to cram 20 minutes of an interactive auditing demonstration into about seven! I might have been able to do it had Arlene not interjected in the middle, but I think she actually helped to clarify something that I had neglected to mention in my hectic race against the clock. So it's all good. You can follow along with some of these slides and download this spreadsheet, both of which are shown and described in the video:

To read more about this, click here to download the simple 3-step audit protocol shown in the slides and video. It was included in a looseleaf binder that was given to all "Summit" attendees.

As you can see, I managed to get through all this in about nine minutes. After the talk, one well-known election official asked if we could do an "Auditing for Dummies" version of it. Reluctantly, I had to break the news to him that, actually, this was the "dummies" version! This got some laughs as I had anticipated it would, but then I said something like, "But seriously folks, it really takes 20 or 30 minutes to explain all this properly and I only had seven. I'm sure that everyone here would understand it given another 13 minutes or so." (I was thus able to meet the requirement not to upset any election officials.)

After that came another panel discussion, and then lunch. A lot of folks had soup, so we must have done a pretty good job explaining statistical sampling. If I had a copy of the dinner menu, I'd post it here. But there is a limit to even my documentary skills, so I guess some aspects of the "Summit" may have to remain undisclosed -- just not the election-related stuff.

If you want to take 20-30 minutes to think about how to confirm electoral outcomes (independently of software of course), please watch the above videos, view the slides, read the 3-step protocol and try the spreadsheet. Then you can say that you too have been to the "Summit" -- and it was really quite down-to-earth after all.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Landmark NJ Election Audit Bill Passes Budget Committee

Trenton, New Jersey
Dec. 10, 2007

New Jersey's landmark Post-Election Audit Bill, S.507, passed the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today by a party line vote (Democrats for and Republicans against), despite massive opposition from the office of Democratic Attorney General Anne Milgram -- the state's chief election official appointed by Governor Corzine.

The AG sent no less than four attorneys to argue against the bill on the basis of what appeared to be some inflated cost estimates for hand-to-eye counts of voter-verifiable paper records and ballots, and some apparent last-minute misinterpretation of the bill's language regarding the establishment of an independent professional state election audit board to design and oversee the audits.

Ten election officials from 10 counties in the state also voiced their opposition to the bill, although some of these had actually been consulted along with the Attorney General's staff during the bill's drafting process in which several important compromises were reached. Unlike those productive discussions, which did not result in a weakening of the audit provisions, witnesses at today's hearing report that there was a fair amount of antagonism.

No one actually opposed the notion of statistical audits (as required by S.507) per se, but there were some unsupported arguments put forth such as the unpredictability of costs and exaggerated cost estimates of post-election audits.

Costs presented by some counties were as high as several dollars per hand-counted vote, but one county, Mercer, submitted a cost of only 14¢ per hand-counted vote. This latter cost is in line with those submitted by experts and advocates for the bill from around the nation based on data from several other states where election audits and manual recounts have been conducted recently.

The next step for this bill will be a vote on the floor of the full Senate. The bill's sponsor, Senator Nia Gill (D - Montclair), continues her rock solid support for this groundbreaking legislation. She said of today's events, "We have moved one step closer to establishing a process that ensures the integrity of our voting system. Our constitutional right to vote is more than just casting a vote; it is also the right for that vote to be counted. The combination of a voter-verified paper trail and a mandatory audit provides the protection needed when using electronic voting machines. The people deserve nothing less, and I look forward to the bill’s passage before the full senate."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

NJ S.507 and VVPAR Bills on Voice of the Voters Radio Again 12/5

Please distribute widely:

NJ State Senator Nia Gill will be on VotV Radio again tomorrow night to discuss the NJ statistical audit bill, S.507, which was reported out of committee yesterday, as written and amended by Senator Gill.

Also up for discussion will be the voter-verified paper record bill, which needs to be fixed in the Assembly to match the Senate Version, S.2949. The Assembly version of S.2949 is A.4585.

A.4585 must now be amended to keep the Attorney General from allowing paperless electronic voting with no deadline for the introduction of paper.

The current version of the audit bill, S.507, is now online on the NJ Legislature's website. It should be passed as written as a model for the nation by the end of the month! The assembly version of this bill is A.2730 and it needs to be amended to match the Senate version. The assembly bill is a flat 2% audit. (Not very effective.)

S.507 is the first legislation to require outcomes of elections, as determined by electronic vote counts, to be confirmed independently of software through the use of statistical methods, up to and including full hand-to-eye counts of voter-verifiable paper records and ballots when necessary.

I may or may not be on the show, but I'm sure there will be another guest or two to discuss this bill with the Senator. The segment will start at 8:00 PM ET.

The page for the webcast is:
There is an archive of last week's show which was excellent. It's Part 2.

For more background, see previous posts here on
Election Integrity: Fact & Friction.

Thanks for all the support you've given to this vital piece of legislation so far! But it's not over 'til it's over.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Landmark NJ Election Audit Bill Out of Committee -- AS WRITTEN!

Just a quick update on S.507 and the VVPAT bill, S.2949:

1. The landmark election audit bill, S.507, passed through the Senate Gov. Committee today as written! The Attorney General's office did not submit their proposed amendments that would have gutted the bill. The vote was 4 to 1 in favor of S.507 as amended by Senator Gill!

2. The paper record deadline in S.2949 was moved to June 2008 but the additional language that would have allowed the Attorney General to delay the voter-verifiable paper record implementation indefinitely was removed. And a commitment was made to hold an oversight hearing on VVPAT implementation in February.

Thanks to everyone who showed up, wrote and called about these bills, and especially Senator Gill whose sponsorship has been rock solid!

The Senator will be asking for continued support as she shepherds the Audit Bill through the legislature. Stay tuned for more on this vitally important issue!

As Gandhi said: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."