January 5, 2021
CONTACT: Lulu Friesdat, Executive Director
Non-partisan Project Releases Trove of Data From Presidential Election: Recommends Full Public Hand-Count Audit of Georgia Senate Race
Areas of interest: Georgia Senate Run-off, Election Protection
New York City - Jan 5, 2021 -- SMART Elections, a non-partisan election reform organization is announcing the release of data and analysis from the Presidential election in Georgia. The report, available at the project’s website
CountTheVote.Info provides insight into concerns about today’s high stakes Senate run-off. The data reveals a chaotic audit and recount process that marred the Georgia presidential election.
For example, one document shows that even when running the same ballots through the same voting machines during the recount, ballot counts swung wildly by thousands of votes. Ballots were often categorized randomly, sometimes as “Election Day” votes, sometimes as “Early”. Four counties did not retain all votes accurately, and close to 6,000 additional votes were discovered that had not been counted in the original certified count. In a deep dive into the intricacies of local elections, the SMART Elections’ data team has tracked the complex path these lost votes took. The stories include forgotten memory cards, batches of half-scanned ballots and volunteer election officials tasked with too much responsibility when senior counterparts were out sick with COVID.
“The #CountTheVote data snapshot shows that election offices in Georgia did not always obey statutes or follow best practices in the presidential election,” notes Lulu Friesdat, executive director of SMART Elections. “When best practices, like reconciling the number of voters with the number of ballots are not followed, vote totals can be called into question, and confidence plummets. We must ensure an accurate count in the Senate run-off, given that control of the Senate hangs in the balance.”
SMART Elections is joining other election protection groups, including the Coalition for Good Governance, in asking the Secretary of State (SOS) to conduct a full, public, statewide, hand-count audit of the Senate race. Election officials have statutory discretion to ask for this. Election officials must follow best practices which include accurate ballot accounting and reconciliation, posting election night poll tapes at all precinct locations, a full hand-count audit, or a risk-limiting audit with ballots tracked correctly, and the use of standard formats like spreadsheets - not obscure software. Having totals publicly available throughout the count and providing complete public transparency creates an environment of competence that candidates and members of the public will respond to. Failure to do this will result in a continued crisis of confidence, with contention and litigation about the end result.
#CountTheVote’s first core initiative directly addresses this type of ballot tracking problem with their poll tape project. Many of the documents in the current report are part of that mission. The #CountTheVote project used a variety of new technologies in the process, and is releasing their first major report about their work today. The effort is a partnership with election protection groups across the country.
Georgia statutes require that election officials post poll tapes (also known as election night results tapes) outside each polling location. Comparing those local election night totals to results published later, ensures that results do not change, or get lost as happened in the Georgia presidential race. When counties post poll tapes, and they are photographed by the public, and monitored for accuracy - lost votes are found more easily. An incident in Cobb County during this year’s Presidential election in which lost votes were found this way, is documented in the report.
If the poll tapes and the published results match, voters and candidates can have more confidence in the results. If they don’t - it is easier to pinpoint where issues may be occurring. Many Georgia counties did follow these procedures and the SMART Elections’ comparisons demonstrate when that part of the process is completed correctly. However the project also brings to light problem areas where counties either seemed not to post poll tapes, or the available tapes did not match the results. Each county was called personally and given a chance to engage in dialogue about the discrepancies.
“Citizen oversight of elections is the hallmark of a modern democratic society. Documenting results as they are tabulated and released at the first possible moment has a long tradition in the U.S. because it is so effective.” said Marilyn Marks, Executive Director of Coalition for Good Governance, and a partner organization in the effort.
Says Rich DeMillo, Distinguished Professor of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, “The idea of crowdsourcing is to bring the wisdom of crowds to problems that seem too large for individuals. Election transparency is one of those problems. #CountTheVote should be an example to everyone of how a connected community can build confidence in the accuracy of election outcomes.”
The project is working with election officials to better understand the issues and improve transparency through crowd-sourced data. Volunteers will be photographing poll tapes in the Georgia Senate Run-Off and many election protection organizations are helping to support them.
SMART Elections is part of a broad coalition of partners working to ensure a fair election, including AUDIT USA, CCoHOPE, Center for Common Ground, Citizens' Audit Broward, Citizens for Voting Integrity New York, Coalition for Good Governance, Democracy Counts, Florida Fair Elections Coalition, Michigan Election Reform Alliance, National Voting Rights Task Force, People Demanding Action, Protect Our Vote Philly, Reclaim Our Vote, SeeSay2020, and Transparent Elections North Carolina.
Media Notes: To schedule an interview with Lulu Friesdat, Rich DeMilllo, or coalition partner Marilyn Marks, or or to request additional information on this initiative, please contact Lulu Friesdat at Lulu@SMARTelections.us.
About SMART Elections and #CountTheVote
SMART Elections is a nonpartisan project dedicated to elevating the issue of election reform to an urgent national priority. We are collaborating to make U.S. elections more secure, accessible, accurate, fair, inclusive, transparent and verifiable. #CountTheVote is a groundbreaking initiative using crowdsourcing technologies to protect and verify the results of the 2020 election. To learn more, visit https://smartelections.us or http://countthevote.info.
To join a group that is already participating,
contact one of our regional partners.
If there is not currently a group in your area,
you can form one and partner with us.
Alternately, read the instructions on
head for you local polling location to get it done!
If your group would like to partner with us, send an email to contact@SMARTelections.us
with #CountTheVote Partner Request in the subject line.
We will help you understand what the laws are in your state, how to collect the data, and why it's important. Groups that partner with us are welcome to use the #CountTheVote hashtag & logo. We list your information on this page, to help you attract more volunteers.
Individuals can also take photos or video of poll tapes.
Thanks for all you are doing to protect your vote!
Groups that are taking the photos and videos and doing other monitoring of election results include
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.
#CountTheVote is a pilot project in beta. Because we are partnering with groups that have deep technology resources - we are hoping to scale up and make a real impact! Be a part of this important effort to monitor, verify and protect election results.
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.
Members of SMART Elections have done public records requests in Florida, Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin. These public records requests have discovered issues. In Broward County Florida, we discovered serious discrepancies in the election resutls. The Supervisor of Elections there was eventually fired.
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. Voters with disabilities want to vote in a way that is accessible, private and independent, and they also deserve to have their votes counted accurately and securely.
The National Election Defense Coalition estimates that "Less than a quarter of states do a post-election audit that manually examines the paper ballots which could catch an error in the election results."
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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