Thursday, August 02, 2007

Random Post-Election Audits of Paper Records and Machines Essential to Ensuring Integrity of the Vote

Yesterday, the Brennan Center and Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law released a new report entitled Post-Election Audits: Restoring Trust in Elections. While there is widespread agreement that all electronic voting machines should produce voter-verifiable paper records, few states have implemented procedures for using these records to ensure the security and reliability of the machines. Paper records on their own will not prevent programming errors, software bugs, or the introduction of malicious software into voting machines. States must use the voter-verified paper records to "audit," or check, election results if the paper is to have any real security value.

New York is among the fifteen states with audit laws on the books and will conduct audits when it adopts new electronic voting systems. Congress and state legislatures are considering audits in future elections.

Together with a panel of statisticians, voting experts, computer scientists, and several of the nation's leading election officials, the Brennan Center and Samuelson Clinic reviewed and evaluated current and proposed audit methods. Among their major findings:
  • Post-election audits of voter-verifiable paper records are a critical tool for detecting ballot-counting errors, discouraging fraud, and improvign the security and reliability of electronic voting machines in future elections. Unfortunately, of the thirty-eight states that require or use voter-verifiable paper records throughout the state, twenty-three do not require such audits after every election.

  • Of the few states that currently require and conduct post-election audits, none has adopted audit models that will maximize the likelihood of finding clever and targeted software-based attacks, non-systemic programming errors, and software bugs that could change the outcome of an election.

  • Only one state, North Carolina, has collected and made public the most significant data from post-election audits for the purpose of improving future elections. Based upon the Brennan Center's review of state laws and interviews with state election officials, the authors conclude that the vast majority of states conducting audits are not using them in a way that will maximize their ability to improve elections in the future.

  • Regardless of the audit model a jurisdiction implements, there are several simple, practical, and inexpensive procedures that it can adopt to achieve the most important post-election auditing goals, without imposing unnecessary burdens on election officials.
We hope New York will move toward implementation of this type of procedure that will allow the state to conduct effective audits and ensure election integrity.

--Margaret Chen, Research Associate, Democracy Program

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