Thursday, August 25, 2005

San Diego recount shows computer-counted results were accurate

A group of voters in San Diego held a "parallel" election during the recent Mayoral election. They asked voters to cast a second ballot that they could count and use to verify the results. About 50 percent of the voters in 11 precincts participated. San Diego County currently uses Diebold's paper-based voting system, using optical scan technology to read the paper ballots, which are then tabulated using Diebold's GEMS software. San Diego is one of three California counties that purchased Diebold's electronic "TSx" machines which are still uncertified by the state and sitting in warehouses. San Diego has been using Diebold's paper voting system in the meantime.

When the parallel election votes were counted, there was a small percentage of difference between those results and the official results. The group requested a recount, and County Registrar Mikel Haas conducted one. The results are out, and show that the hand counted totals were "nearly identical" to the software counted totals, according to this article by Daniel J. Chacon in today's San Diego Union-Tribune.

Had the mayoral election been conducted on paperless, electronic voting machines a public recount could not have been conducted and the registrar would have been unable to verify to the public that the software-counted results were accurate. There are some voting rights activists who say we shouldn't use computers in the voting or vote counting process at all. But it is my view, and one that is widely shared among those working for transparancy and accountability in the voting process, that computers and software can be used safely if the voting system utilizes paper ballots, like San Diego's, or includes a voter verified paper trail, and if some percentage of those paper records are randomly selected and routinely used to verify the accuracy of the overall software vote count.

Excerpts from the Union-Tribune article are below.


A partial recount yesterday to test the accuracy of scanners that read ballots and tallied votes in the San Diego mayor's race July 26 revealed results that were nearly identical to those of the machines.

An election worker logged votes during yesterday's recount of about 30 precincts in the San Diego mayoral race.

For example, a discrepancy of perhaps one vote occurred in a few precincts.

"This is what you would expect in a properly conducted election," San Diego County Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas said. "I think the people of San Diego can take comfort, if they had doubts at all, about the conduct of the election."

Members of the group that asked and paid for the recount of about 30 of the city's 713 precincts said they still had doubts about a voting system that relies on computers.

Jerry Ewig of Democracy for America said the only voting system he deems reliable is one that uses paper ballots counted by hand.

"No machines," he said.


The recount was initiated by the group Citizens Audit Parallel Election, which staked out 11 precincts and asked people exiting the polls how they voted. The group said its tally differed from the official count by up to 4 percent.

The group asked for a recount on behalf of Councilwoman Donna Frye, who finished first and agreed to lend her name to the cause, said Hal Simon, her campaign office manager.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm confident in this election system because it works," said Simon, who has observed two mayoral race recounts since November. "This proves that if they (voters) do make the effort and go out and vote, their vote will count."

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