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Ohio: Post-Election Audit Would Improve Voter Confidence PDF  | Print |  Email
By Lawrence Norden, Brennan Center for Justice New York University School of Law   
March 15, 2008
This oped was published in the Columbus Dispatch and is reposted here with permission of the author.

No matter their political persuasion or favored candidates, Ohioans should feel good about the March 4 election: Despite the bad weather, record numbers of voters turned out and, presented with significant procedural and equipment changes, most poll workers and election officials performed very well.

But Ohioans shouldn't close the book on the election just yet. There's still important work to be done, especially if we want to make sure that the general election in November goes as smoothly as possible.

Ohio counties should conduct post-election audits as soon as practical, to confirm for voters that their choices were accurately counted and to provide feedback that will allow counties to improve the voting process in November.

Audits are standard practice in both the public and private sectors. They allow government agencies and private businesses to catch mistakes and set benchmarks for future performance. There is no reason Ohio elections should be exempt from this standard accounting practice, which a growing number of states concerned about voting-system security have adopted in the past few years.

Most important, a post-election audit would compare voter-verified paper records (whether paper ballots, like those filled out by voters in Cleveland, or machine-printed paper trails, like those reviewed by voters in Columbus) with the electronic totals from the voting machines. Ohio uses the electronic totals to calculate votes, and unless we check those totals with a manual check of the paper records, we cannot know whether a programming error, software bug or other problem led to inaccurate totals. We cannot know if a machine misinterpreted a voter's mark on a paper ballot or misrecorded the total number of voters who cast ballots. Correctly done audits will highlight any technological deficiencies with the machinery, identify missing or ineligible ballots and, most important, provide voters with a justified sense of confidence in the election results.

Given the serious questions about the reliability and security of Ohio's voting technology raised by the Project EVEREST study commissioned by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, immediate audits would be particularly useful. In ideal form, audits would make elections as transparent as possible by identifying any shortcomings that may have existed in counting votes. Audits are somewhat like the superhero of elections, protecting the voters' interests. If there are problems, audits will find them; if there is corruption, audits will be there.

Ohio appears to be on track to restore integrity to the electoral process. But county and state officials should not stop now. We are hopeful that in the coming months, statewide officials and the legislature will follow the lead of 17 other states and require post-election audits statewide, after every election. In the meantime, counties can conduct their own audit "pilots" without waiting for direction from the state. Ohioans and their fellow countrymen deserve nothing less.
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