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Audits in Connecticut PDF  | Print |  Email
By George Barnett, TrueVoteCT   
November 17, 2006
The Connecticut Secretary of the State, Susan Bysiewicz, announced that Democrat Joe Courtney defeated the incumbent Republican Rob Simmons in the 2nd Congressional District (CD-2) House race after a recanvass was completed. Courtney, who led by a mere 167 votes after the original count on election night, ended up with only 91 more votes than Simmons. Secretary Bysiewicz went on to explain the audit procedures that will take place in the Connecticut towns, outside of CD-2, that used optical scanners in the 2006 election.

In August of 2006, optical scan voting machines were selected to replace the lever machines in 25 out of 169 towns in Connecticut. In addition, the IVS telephone voting system was purchased for every town in the state to meet the accessibility requirements in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Connecticut chose to purchase AccuVote-OS optical scanners from Diebold Election Systems, Inc.. LHS Associates of Massachusetts was designated to carry out the provisions of the state’s contract with Diebold. Several computer scientists, including Dr. Alex Shvartsman and the University of Connecticut's Department of Computer Science and Engineering, have found serious security flaws in the AccuVote-OS optical scanners.

Bysiewicz told a crowded room of reporters at the press conference that 17 machines, or 20% of the scanners used outside CD-2, would be recounted by hand. The totals from the hand recounts would then be compared to the totals calculated by the scanners. This type of audit should determine if the scanners counted the ballots accurately. The audits will be completed by Nov. 28, before the elections are certified. After Bysiewicz fielded questions from the press, a League of Women Voters representative randomly selected papers from a box to determine the 17 scanners that will be audited. A different League of Women Voters representative and a TrueVoteCT member verified that each scanner outside of CD-2 had a properly marked piece of paper in the box before the selection took place.

Two other interesting issues were discussed at the press conference. The first is the fact that the scanners from CD-2 were excluded from the selection process. When a reporter asked Secretary Bysiewicz why CD-2 was excluded, she said the decision was made based on advice from Attorney General Blumenthal. The CD-2 scanner tallies were recalculated during a recanvass but no hand recounts actually took place. Instead, the scanners were tested by processing the ballots through different scanners than the ones used on Election Day. This test did not conclusively verify that the scanners worked as intended but the only way any of the ballots from CD-2 will be hand counted is if the Simmons campaign files legal action and requests hand recounts.

The other development discussed was the fact the Newtown First Selectman, Herb Rosenthal, pledged that volunteers would hand recount all of the ballots in Newtown that were counted by scanners. Since no Newtown scanners were picked during the selection process, this ensures that more than 20% of the scanners outside of CD-2 will be audited.

There are still questions to be answered about the audit process. Probably the biggest one is what happens if problems are found. Also, all of the towns performing the hand recounts will be doing them on a volunteer basis since there is nothing in the Connecticut statutes requiring this. It is expected, however, that all of the towns selected will comply with the audit procedures. Many Registrars of Voters are concerned about the labor-intensive nature of the recounts and have made it clear that additional volunteers will be needed. It will be up to the citizens of Connecticut to respond to this challenge.

Despite these concerns this is a very positive step in the election process in Connecticut. If the hand recounts proceed as described the state will have assurance that the scanners counted the ballots correctly and that accurate elections took place. Secretary Bysiewicz made the point that hand recounts of this magnitude have never happened before in the United States. A follow up article will discuss the outcome of the audits after the Nov. 28 completion date.
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