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National Issues

Report Finds Disparity in State Approaches to Post-Election Audits PDF  | Print |  Email
March 14, 2007

More states seek to build voter confidence through audits, but methods vary


A comprehensive new case study of post-election audits by finds that while manual audit use is on the rise nationwide, the methods, sample size and remedies for disparities are markedly different across state lines.


The study found that post-election manual audits, in which ballots from a number of precincts are inspected to make sure machines and tabulators performed properly, are one tool used by a growing number of states to help assure a wary public that elections accurately reflect the will of the people.


But how states conduct those audits varies significantly. For example, while California auditors analyze ballots from 1 percent of precincts, Connecticut counters examined votes from 20 percent of all precincts in the state. And while Wisconsin makes voting-system vendors accountable for problems revealed in audits, a number of states expand audits and leave broad discretion to chief election officials to determine how to proceed in case discrepancies are found.


“Changes in the American electoral system have been pronounced in recent years, with federal mandates for accessible voting systems, statewide voter registration databases, provisional voting and widespread replacements of older voting technology,” said Doug Chapin, director of


“While the overhaul of the voting process has been extensive, the confidence of the American public has been challenged. Under votes in a Congressional race in Sarasota, Fla., reports of machine problems in a number of states and nagging concerns over the security, reliability, accuracy and transparency of electronic voting systems have only increased the urgency for audits from activists and lawmakers alike,” Chapin said.

The case study, the 17th in a series of briefings on election administration issues, focuses on five states that use different approaches for conducting audits.

  • California was among the first to require manual audits, beginning in 1965 and amended procedures when the state began requiring the use of voter-verified paper audit trails (VVPATs) with electronic voting machines in 2005. Recently, however, some have called for a more transparent audit process and more assurance of random selections of precincts to count.
  • Minnesota conducted its first statewide post-election audit in 2006, inviting observers in a review of 200 precincts. Advocates and election officials both reported being satisfied with the process and the results.
  • In Nevada, where officials started auditing VVPATs after the 2004 election, reviews of the paper trails were found to be “tedious and error-prone,” prompting election administrators to look at scanners that could read paper trail bar codes rather than require hand counts of every office.
  • Arizona law requires manual audits, but only if the political parties provide representatives to conduct them. As a result, only a third of counties audited ballots after the 2006 election.
  • In Connecticut, a pilot project required hand counts of 20 percent of all precincts taking part in a program to introduce paper-based optical-scan voting to the state. A bill now under debate in the legislature would require the same one-fifth precinct requirement to be state law beginning next year, when the rest of the state’s voting jurisdictions will complete the switch to optical-scan systems after decades of using paperless lever machines.

The report provides a snapshot of audit rules and procedures in 18 other states, including states that perform other types of post-election reviews that do not involve manual counts as well as a review of what changes federal legislation could have on auditing processes nationwide.


The report is available for download here.
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