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Election Experts Release “Ballot Accounting Checklist” for 2008 Election

In light of recent miscounts and vote losses in recent primaries, a coalition including the Brennan Center urge elections officials to practice smart, transparent ballot accounting. The Center also produced the checklist to be sent to officials.

September 29, 2008
For Imme­di­ate Release

Contact: Tim Brad­ley, Berlin­Rosen Public Affairs, (646) 452–5637

24-Step Check­list Offers Ballot Count­ing Stand­ards after Multiple Primary Miscounts

New York – In light of start­ling miscounts and vote losses in recent primar­ies in Flor­ida, Ohio and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., today the Bren­nan Center for Justice, joined by Veri­fied Voting and Common Cause, urged elec­tion offi­cials across the coun­try to prac­tice smart, trans­par­ent ballot account­ing in order to tally votes accur­ately and main­tain public confid­ence in the 2008 elec­tion results. With the contri­bu­tions of elec­tion offi­cials, elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion experts and computer scient­ists, the Bren­nan Center also dissem­in­ated a “Check­list for Best Ballot Account­ing Prac­tices” that precincts and counties can follow both before polls open and after they close.

“In light of recent and highly publi­cized miscounts around the coun­try, we urge elec­tion offi­cials to check the math and take some basic steps to make sure all ballots are coun­ted and accoun­ted for,” said Lawrence Norden, director of voting tech­no­logy at the Bren­nan Center for Justice.

“All of the systems we use today have what are called redund­an­cies—­backup meas­ures in the form of tapes prin­ted from machines, poll books that record the number of people who signed in, and so on. We should be using these redund­an­cies to make sure that mistakes or foul play do not result in wrong vote tallies on Novem­ber 4th,” Norden stated.

Three signi­fic­ant voting count­ing prob­lems have emerged in primar­ies in recent weeks and are causes for seri­ous concern about the integ­rity of vote count­ing on Novem­ber 4th—­par­tic­u­larly in the case of a close elec­tion:

  • First, on August 19th, Premier voting systems, formerly known as Diebold, acknow­ledged that the voting system used during the recent Ohio primary contained a crit­ical program­ming error which led to the loss of votes as they were being totaled. When multiple memory cards contain­ing votes from indi­vidual machines were uploaded at the same time to a cent­ral loca­tion, not all votes had been uploaded. Fortu­nately, crit­ical post-elec­tion canvass and recon­cili­ation processes discovered the prob­lem before the vote was certi­fied and all the votes were ulti­mately coun­ted. Unfor­tu­nately, however, many states use this system.
  • Second, in the Septem­ber 9th primary in Wash­ing­ton D.C., there were three differ­ent counts of the votes—and each time they came out differ­ently, as repor­ted by the Wash­ing­ton Post.
  • Third, in the August 26th Palm Beach County primary, several votes disap­peared during a recount, and then reappeared in differ­ent meas­ures upon a second and third recount.


“Many states and counties have already insti­tuted the right proced­ures. But the recent melt­downs in these three primar­ies suggest that not every juris­dic­tion is using the built-in redund­an­cies on Elec­tion Day to avoid prob­lems that could under­mine confid­ence in elect­oral outcomes,” said Pam Smith, Pres­id­ent of Veri­fied Voting.

“These recom­mend­a­tions repres­ent a minimum of what elec­tions offi­cials should do to account for all ballots and votes cast on Elec­tion Day. Elec­tion offi­cials should also estab­lish similar proced­ures for early and absentee ballots,” Smith added.

The “Ballot Account­ing Check­list” includes the follow­ing action items:

  • Compare the total number of votes cast to the total number of voters who signed in at the polling place. For both regu­lar and emer­gency paper ballots, compare the number of voted, spoiled, and unused paper ballots with the number of ballots sent to the polling place.
  • Compare digital vote tallies from voting machines to vote total tapes.
  • Compare elec­tronic tally server totals to vote total tapes gener­ated from each voting machine.
  • Publish results of ballot, machine total, and memory card recon­cili­ations.
  • 24 Check­list Items total

“We real­ize that with Elec­tion Day just one month away, and early voting having already star­ted in several states, this is an extremely busy time for elec­tion offi­cials. But good post-elec­tion ballot account­ing and recon­cili­ation proced­ures will be crit­ical to ensur­ing that every vote is coun­ted, and coun­ted only once,” said Susan­nah Good­man, Director of the Elec­tion Reform Program at Common Cause.

“Admin­is­trat­ors and offi­cials from around the coun­try have agreed that these prac­tices will help pave the way to a smooth elec­tion. We hope county elec­tion offi­cials will insti­tute these steps, as a bare minimum,” Norden concluded.

To view the Bren­nan Center’s complete Best Ballot Account­ing Prac­tices Check­list, click here.

For the Bren­nan Center’s letter to elec­tion offi­cials on ballot account­ing prac­tices, click here