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National Issues

The Importance of Recounts PDF  | Print |  Email
By Warren Stewart, VoteTrustUSA   
November 04, 2006
The images from 2000 are burned into our collective memory. Election officials peering through magnifying glasses to examine hanging and pregnant chads. At a recent Congressional hearing these images were projected on a screen with the intent of muddying the debate over the growing demand for transparent, auditable, and verifiable voting systems. But when I see those pictures, I see democracy at its best: election officials going the extra mile to determine the intent of every voter. Recounts are essential to ensure a sound, healthy democracy and with the increasing dependence on software to count votes, the imperative to verify election results is even stronger.

Since recounts invariably take place in the overcharged political climate of a hotly contested campaign, recounts are most often marred by real or perceived manipulation. Many states have recognized that mandatory random audits can serve to alleviate much of the concern about electronic voting machines and de-politicize what should be a routine aspect of administering elections.

The dean of election administrators, Bill Gardner (pictured at left), who has been New Hampshire’s Secretary of State for decades, considers recounts an important part of ensuring credibility of an election outcome. He makes the point that a successful election is when the losing candidate, and his or her supporters, are confident that the result was accurate. The capability of conducting a transparent hand recount of paper ballots in public with the media and all interested parties watching is critical to achieving that goal.

Sadly, too many election officials are more concerned about avoiding controversy than in confirming the accuracy of electronic voting tallies. For them, purely electronic voting systems are a godsend. One voting equipment manufacturer actually boasts in their advertisements that using their machines would mean, “no more recounts”.

However, as Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted in an essay last year, "Unfortunately, there remain a number of states and counties that cannot see the writing on the wall. After all, pressing a button to reprint a "recount" would seem to be the clean and easy solution; if the numbers never change, voting officials can simply claim that the first count was correct and call it a day."

Many states have recognized the importance of verifying the accuracy of electronic vote tabulation and have established routine post election audits. In fifteen states this November, paper ballots (or voter verified paper records) from a percentage of randomly selected precincts will be hand counted, and the results of those hand counts will be compared to the electronic tallies. If discrepancies are uncovered they can be investigated to determine if they reveal systemic programming flaws and if further audits are warranted.

Any corporation or financial institution that didn’t regularly audit their books would not survive for long. Our elections should be held to the same standards.
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