Feed on
Posts
Comments

Behind the election news in Buffalo, NY, there is a cautionary tale about voting system complexity and confidence. The story is about a very close race for the state Senate’s 60th district. One news article includes a reference to “software problems with the new electronic voting machines in Erie County.”

The fundamental issue here is whether to trust the vote count numbers, in a case where the race is very close and where the voting system malfunctioned at least once, because of a software bug later identified by the vendor. If one part of the system malfunctioned, shouldn’t we also be concerned that another part may also have malfunctioned? An error on even one of the over a 100 paper-ballot-counting devices could easily swamp the very small margin between the top two candidates.

Those are good questions, and as frequent readers will already know, the typical answer is “audit”, that is, hand-counting a portion of the paper ballots to ensure that the hand-counts match the machine counts, using statistical science to guide how many ballots to hand count to achieve confidence that the overall election results are valid. That’s what the state of Connecticut — another recent adopter of paper ballots over lever machines — is doing with a manual count of ballots from 73 of the 734 precincts statewide.

But that’s not happening in Buffalo (as far as I can tell), where instead there is wrangling over doing a full re-count, with confusion over the voting system malfunction muddying the waters. And that’s a shame, because election technology properly used (including routine audits) should not cause this kind of legal activity over the validity of an election result — in this case an important one that could influence party control in the state Senate, with re-districting on the horizon.

But some of the finger-point goes to the technology too. What actually malfunctioned? Could the glitch have effect the election result? What can we learn from the incident? Questions for next time …

– EJS

Share

2 Responses to “Tabulator Troubles in New York”

  1. Bo Lipari says:

    NYS does have an audit requirement which is being followed in Buffalo.
    3% of machines in each county are selected at random, and all ballots on those machines are hand counted. If the machine results do not match (must be within .1% for each contest on ballot), the audit is escalated to 5%, then 12%, and finally a full hand recount.

    So an audit is taking place, and is separate from any talk of recounts.

  2. E. John Sebes says:

    Bo — Thanks for the summary of NY ballot count audit procedures, and for the news of the audit underway. When I wrote last week, the audit had not yet begun, perhaps delayed in part by the technical malfunctions that I wrote about today: http://www.trustthevote.org/tabulator-technology-troubles — EJS

Leave a Reply