SMART Elections is collaborating on a pilot project using the hashtag #CountTheVote.
Along with other orgs we are training a corps of volunteers how to assess the accuracy of U.S. election results.
There are lots of ways to help! Sign up by clicking here.
What are poll tapes?
At the close of polls on election night, poll workers have a long list of things to do to close down a polling site. One of those is to print out poll tapes or election results from each voting machine.
Poll tapes usually look like cash register receipts. Sometimes, like in CA, they might be called a "votes cast form." They contain the vote tallies for every candidate in every race, and for the votes on ballot initiatives. Sometimes there is a tape for each voting machine. Sometimes there is just one tape for all the votes in a location.
In some states, these poll tapes (or votes cast forms) must be posted for the public outside the polling place. (In California, for example, they are required to be posted for 48 hours following an election. See P. 48 of the 2020 Elections Officers Digest.)
Errors and manipulation of results can happen later in the process, when the votes from the polling location are transferred to an election management system that tallies totals, or when the results are posted to a website.
Because of this, taking photo or videos of the polltapes outside polling places is a really important tool in election protection. The data on these tapes can be compared to official results to see if any numbers change.
If no discrepancies are found, the public can have greater confidence that there are no errors in this part of the election results.
For this project we need volunteers to look up precinct addresses, take photos and video of poll tapes and also process and analyze the data.
If you would like to help please fill out this Google form to get started.
Another way to check election results is to review the hand-marked paper ballots themselves and compare them to the results of a voting machine. That is called a post-election audit. But many states are not doing post-election audits, and if they are, often security experts say the audits are not comprehensive enough to discover mistakes and fraud.
Many of today's voting machines take a photo of the ballot when it is scanned. That is called a digital ballot image. One way to do an audit, even if you don't have access to the hand-marked paper ballots, is to do a public records request for digital ballot images of the ballots. These images can be tallied, like ballots and compared to election results. Other information such as whether or not the number of voters and ballots match can also be requested.
Members of SMART Elections have done public records requests in Florida, New York and Wisconsin. They are moving forward with public records request in other states now as well. These public records requests have discovered issues. In Broward County Florida, we discovered serious discrepancies. The Supervisor of Elections there was eventually fired.
If you would like to help please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with #BallotImages in the subject line.
The final part of our project involves monitoring the results of caucuses. In Iowa, we found a strange rounding up procedure, that although officially approved, still made many people uncomfortable.
Below is a more detailed explanation of our project and our description of what fair elections look like.
Thanks for everything you are doing to protect your vote.
#CountTheVote is a small pilot project in beta. Some of the technologies we are using are new and we will ask volunteers to try them out and report back about how they are working. Other techniques we are employing, such as doing public records requests, have been used for decades.
We believe it is absolutely necessary for the public to begin seriously evaluating the security and accuracy of election results. This can provide evidence if there are discrepancies with reported results and add confidence if evidence suggests that official results are accurate.
Even if we are only able to evaluate a small portion of election results, it is important to do it and see what we discover. As we gain experience, we may be able to monitor more elections, more conclusively.
We are training volunteers:
According to a C-SPAN/Ipsos poll in the fall of 2019, "only half of Americans say they believe the vote will be conducted openly and fairly." The Hill reports this "reveals a growing mistrust in the U.S. electoral system."
A 2016 AP-NORC poll found that "most Americans think there is at least some fraud in elections ... Forty-one percent are very concerned and 35 percent are somewhat concerned about how susceptible the country’s election system is to hacking." AP-NORC also found that "nine in ten Americans lack confidence in the country's political system."
Levels of trust, and reasons for distrust vary greatly depending on political ideology, but neither political party's members retain strong levels of trust currently. "Only 29 percent of Democrats and just 16 percent of Republicans have a great deal of confidence in their party."
Early voting at a polling place in Charlotte, N.C., October 20, 2016. (Reuters photo: Chris Keane)
Elections are better run by neutral administrators than partisan officials. Pippa Norris of Harvard, said in an email to us: political parties running U.S. Elections is a “pure conflict of interest.” Adding that, “In established democracies there are normally ... election commissions,” with, “neutral and impartial professional civil servants.” She cites the UK, Norway and Germany as examples. According to their website, the Australian Electoral Commission, “places special emphasis on political neutrality” to provide Australians with “an independent electoral service.”
Many factors can create a lack of transparency.
Security experts recommend that as many voters as possible use durable hand-marked paper ballots. They recommend voters with disabilities use secure ballot-marking devices that offer them privacy and independence but do not tabulate votes. Many voting systems in the U.S. have serious security vulnerabilities and many are also old and past their normal period of use. SMART Elections has highly-qualified advisory teams and we follow their recommendations. We also work closely with the disability community to ensure that their needs are articulated and met.
We can no longer trust that our election results are accurate. We must verify every race, every election. One major component of verification is robust audits, conducted by independent auditors. The principal of neutral oversight of election audits was established by the 2007 Post-Election Audit Summit, which stated, “The authority and regulation of post-election audits should be independent of officials who conduct the elections."
In addition to advocating for audits, #Count the Vote is training volunteers in other ways to monitor and assess the accuracy of the vote.
There can be no fair elections in an environment where any eligible voters is discouraged, or not given equal access to the ballot.
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