Two bizarre “audits” of today’s straw poll in Ames were announced –one to cast doubt on the process and one to soothe fears of skeptical voters. Neither audit could accomplish much of anything.
The official Republican “audit” was being conducted by the state auditor David Vaudt. I inquired as to how it would work. My question was answered by a county auditor who had volunteered to help out and was supervising the 6 Diebold scanners in Hilton Coliseum. He said that at some point one of the six scanners would be opened and its stack of ballots would be counted to determine that the number of ballots matched the machine’s count of ballots that had been deposited.
No ballots would actually be examined. The audit would not show that the machine had properly read the pencil mark on the ballot or that it had properly totalled the ballots marked for each candidate. It would only show that the machine contained the number of ballots that its indicator screen claimed.
Such an audit is of no help in reassuring that the count for each candidate is accurate. We want to know that the machine did NOT take every tenth Tancredo vote and move it to Mitt. Such mischief could terminate Tom Tancredo.
Mitt moved mountains to win the poll. Ron Paul supporters need to know Mitt was not able to move votes inside the black boxes. They are a skeptical bunch.
Worse than the Republican audit was the one going on outside the polling place by people in yellow shirts saying VoteinSunshine. They were conducting a non-random exit poll. They gave voters a yellow half page paper to sign. The paper said the signer was signing because he wanted the votes to be properly counted. Signers were also supposed to scribble down the name of the candidate for whom they had just voted back at the Diebold scanner. The papers were then deposited in a translucent plastic box.
According to a Wisconsin woman working on this project, these exit poll results would be counted and reported at the same time (7 pm) as the official results.
Unfortunately many voters walked past the exit poll without participating. The woman claimed Romney voters put “their noses in the air.”
So what good is this? Vote in Sunshine will have different results from the official results because some groups will be undersampled by their casual methods. For all their efforts to advocate hand counting and to insist that ballots actually be examined by citizens, their totals will be worthless and that will undermine their work.
Really good audits are not hard to do. Some fraction of the scanners would have their ballots recounted by hand. Landslide results require very small audits. Close elections require more extensive hand counting. Statisticians know how to determine the minimum size audit for any circumstances. It’s time we started this practice.
No doubt this is more interesting reporting on the spectacle than we’ll see elsewhere. And it does sound like some more stringent auditing was in order. Reporting of the results of the straw poll were delayed by at least an hour. Here’s what the Des Moines Register reported:
“About 1,500 ballots needed to be recounted, said Mary Tiffany, a spokeswoman for Republican Party of Iowa.
Two machines caused the problem, said State Auditor David Vaudt. “What likely happened is someone submitted their ballot too quickly after the other,” he said. The ballots from those machines were hand counted, then re-fed into the system to recalculate the vote. A campaign poll-watcher said in one instance, a black box contained 500 paper ballots but the machine’s memory said it had scanned in 498.”
There’s not a lot of detail to go on there…
Have they burned the evidence yet?
Is there anyway to get a court order so that the ballots can be checked by an independent source?
There is also a forum post where someone noted that Ron Paul’s check box was in different positions on two different ballots. If these are optical scan readers, shuffling the boxes positions is a clever low tech way of hacking the vote without even opening up the machine. This should be easily verifiable if someone can see the ballots.