Auditability is one of the elements that makes e-voting attractive to institutions looking to ensure that their elections processes are transparent and accurate. According to Joseph Lorenzo Hall, senior staff technologist at The Center for Democracy & Technology, post-election audits are “the single most important development in election technology in recent years.” Many states in the US use some type of electronic voting, and so some of them carry out audits as well.
Audits in the US examine the equipment and procedures used to count the votes. The aim of these audits is to make sure that both the election yielded the correct result and everyone involved in the process followed proceedings according to law. To this end, in most cases, one percent of the ballots are recounted by hand in order to compare the result to what was reported on election night. Also, aspects such as poll worker training and chain-of-custody protocols are assessed.
When it comes to verifying results, recounting one percent of the ballots by hand can be cumbersome in some cases, as some counties are large enough to have 1% represent about 200,000 votes. Besides, one percent is a pretty arbitrary number that could be too much for a large victory margin or too little for a tight match. Thus, new statistically-based techniques have been developed to offer more accurate audits. One is called a “risk-limiting audit” (RLA), where the number of ballots to recount varies depending on the margin of the election. More votes should be counted where victory was attained by a small margin and only a small number of incorrectly counted ballots could make the difference.
Some election officials don’t agree with having to run post-electoral audits due to budget cuts making it difficult to pay those who perform them and the fact that most of the times nothing irregular shows up at the inspections. What these people are not taking into account is that even if irregularities are uncommon, when they do happen it takes a great amount of money to perform a total recount, so in the long run, audits actually represent cost savings for the governments running them.
There are some flaws in the current American audit system. For example, two states that use DRE technology do not emit vote receipts (also known as paper trails), so it is unclear how they audit their polls. Besides, only 25 states out of 50 make post-election audits a requirement. This is because the choice on whether to make audits mandatory or optional is in the hands of the state legislator. Some say that audits will not stop identity theft, but people need to know their intent is reflected in the results of the elections they have participated in.
E-voting is finding its way into the American voting system, but it needs to be understood and used well in order for it to solve the problems that manual voting is not solving. Some of the benefits of e-voting come from its auditability, no doubt. A well-implemented e-voting platform guarantees secure, transparent, and accurate elections, but for this to happen the auditability element cannot be removed nor only marginally implemented.
Find more information about post-election audits in the US here.