E-Voting News and Analysis, from the Experts

Monday December 06, 2004

Hand Recount of Computer Results

Filed under: — Felten @ 10:12 am UTC

Two Washington counties are going to recount e-voting results by printing them out from a computer and then counting the printouts by hand, according to an AP story.
The e-voting technology stores each vote in an electronic cartridge. These cartridges will be used to create a PDF file for each ballot, which will be printed, thus allowing a hand recount of paper ballots.

This makes no sense, obviously. If the electronic cartridges are the only available records of how people voted, then the print-then-recount-by-hand procedure can only introduce further errors. (Of course, recounting voter-verified paper ballots, had their been any, would have given us useful information about how votes were cast.)

So why is this charade going on? Presumably because Washington state law requires a recount of paper voting records when recounting a very close election, such as this year’s gubernatorial election. Perhaps the current law was adopted back before anybody foresaw the possibility of computerized voting.

This kind of problem isn’t unique to Washington state. I understand that New Jersey election laws require election machines to be examined by mechanical engineers. That made sense back when all such machines were mechanical, but it’s the wrong approach for computerized machines. Technology has moved much faster than voting law.

UPDATE (Dec. 7): One of the two affected counties (Snohomish) has asked for permission to transfer the machine votes onto computer tape, and then use a computer to recount the records on the tape, according to a Seattle Times

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