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By Edwar B. Foley, Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University   
December 19, 2007

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is concerned that computers used to count ballots at precincts are vulnerable to hacking. In a major report released last Friday, she recommends instead counting ballots centrally at Ohio's 88 county boards of election.
Whatever the risk of hacking, however, it is a mistake to eliminate the counting of ballots at local precincts.

Ballots have been known to go missing during transport from precinct to main office. In the old days, ballot boxes sometimes would end up in the river. In 2006, during the much-troubled May primary in Cuyahoga County, election officials misplaced 70 cartridges containing the votes from 200 precincts.

A better way to address Brunner's concern would be to count ballots twice, first at the precincts and then again after they've arrived at headquarters. That way, if ballots were lost en route, voters would not be disenfranchised.

The general point is that we should rely on recounts, or audits, to address our concerns about potential counting errors, including those caused by software sabotage. There are different types of recounts, machine and manual, as well as different types of audits. A mandatory audit of 10 percent of precincts, no matter how close the margin of victory, is obviously stricter than an initial audit of only 3 percent of precincts unless the result is close enough to require a more rigorous review.

Given the concerns raised by Brunner's report, as well as the potential significance of Ohio to the 2008 presidential election, it would be appropriate to plan an especially rigorous audit of next November's election.

 

Read the Entire Editorial at the Columbus Dispatch 

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