Proposed Legislation For the Publishing Of Election Totals On The Internet (Section 15151)
A manual tally, also called an “audit”, is a necessary part of California’s elections. There have been numerous studies and proposals about how to verify that the totals for each precinct are reasonably accurate. However, there is no systematic way for the public to readily verify that a county’s central tabulator is accurately reporting the countywide totals of the precinct results for each contest, other than to total each of them up by hand. The problem is
(1) the central tabulator is the easiest part of the system for an insider to manipulate, so the results, including the totals it reports need to be verified, and
(2) there are 25,000 precincts in California, and 4,500 in Los Angeles County alone. For one race in Los Angeles with just two contestants, to check the total would require adding 9,000 numbers, by hand. If the public had wanted to check the gubernatorial recall election results, that would have required entering over 3,300,000 candidate/precinct results – by hand – in order to check the statewide totals. The result is that there is no systematic check of the countywide totals independent of the results reported by the unreliable central tabulators.
How This Bill Addresses The Problem
Currently section 15151(b) already requires that election officials transmit results to the Secretary of State on election night. But that information arrives in various formats, including by fax. Some counties even type the results into a database, by hand. This is both expensive and subject to human error. This proposal seeks to streamline the data reporting statewide into one digital format, and to have the Secretary of State post that data on the Internet starting on election night. This data can be used by the public to check vote totals. If the data is structured properly, computer programmers can easily write programs for everybody to download all the data, and total it up. To have this verifiable information on election night will be very useful for candidates, political analysts, the media, and the general public.
This proposal will also have a national impact beyond setting a needed precedent for open government. By requiring all central voting systems certified in California to have the technical capability of easily creating structured, computer-readable, detailed precinct reports, that reporting capability will be available to almost any other jurisdiction that uses the system, fully tested and qualified by the federal testing system.
I have been informed by persons who are knowledgeable about certification of voting systems in California that a law needs to be passed in order to see the necessary improvement to the software in the central tabulator.
Section 15151(b) already requires the counties to submit reports to the Secretary of State’s office on election night. Some of them do so by retyping the results into another database, by hand. Almost all, if not all the central election management systems in California use already standard databases. It should be as easy to export that information in a structured digital format as is currently being done in other unstructured formats such as PDF. I am told that the Diebold/Premier GEMS tabulator software already provides this capability and that the next version of the Sequoia system will. The office of the Secretary of State will have to receive this information, and to post it on its web site, but that cost should also be minimal as they already do similar reporting.
For the counties that are hand-typing results into a database, or faxing the results, there should be a savings as there is less labor involved. For others, the costs of reporting results should be no more than what it is already.
Candidates, analysts, journalists, and citizens nationwide will have the ability of easily verifying the vote totals reported by each county starting on election night.
Existing California Elections Code :
DIVISION 15. Semifinal Official Canvass, Official Canvass, Recount, And Tie Vote Procedures
Chapter 3. Semifinal Official Canvass
Article 1. General Provisions
For every election the elections official shall conduct a semifinal official canvass by tabulating absentee and precinct ballots and compiling the results. The semifinal official canvass shall commence immediately upon the close of the polls and shall continue without adjournment until all precincts are accounted for.
(a) The elections official shall transmit the semifinal official results to the Secretary of State in the manner and according to the schedule prescribed by the Secretary of State prior to each election, for the following:
(1) All candidates voted for statewide office.
(2) All candidates voted for the following offices:
(A) State Assembly.
(B) State Senate.
(C) Member of the United States House of Representatives.
(D) Member of the State Board of Equalization.
(E) Justice of the Court of Appeals.
(3) All persons voted for at the presidential primary or for electors of President and Vice President of the United States.
(4) Statewide ballot measures.
(b) The elections official shall transmit the results to the Secretary of State at intervals no greater than two hours, following commencement of the semifinal official canvass.
Proposed Addition To Section 15151 :
(c) Any new voting system or voting system upgrade purchased after December 31, 2010 shall be capable of creating a computer file containing the semiofficial results listed in subdivisions (a) and (b) in a structured, non-proprietary, electronic format such as comma-delimited, tab-delimited, Extensible Markup Language (“XML”), or Election Markup Language (“EML”), as determined by the Secretary of State. The system software shall also enable elections officials to copy the file to an external digital medium such as a CD ROM or DVD disk. The elections officials using such new or upgraded voting systems shall transmit the semiofficial results as prescribed in subdivision (b) using the structured electronic format determined by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State shall post the results on the Elections Division web site in a structured, non-proprietary, electronic format as soon as possible.
Related California Elections Code :
The following sections of the Elections Code are related to the proposed addition to section 15151. I include them here for your convenience.
DIVISION 14. Election Day Procedures
Chapter 4. Closing Of The Polls
Article 4. Snap Tallies
Upon receipt from the precincts of the reports of votes cast on the specially designated offices and measures, the elections official shall tabulate the results and make the results available to the public. In each general election, all these reports of the election results shall include the votes cast for all candidates whose names appear on the ballot for each office for which returns are reported.
DIVISION 15. Semifinal Official Canvass, Official Canvass, Recount, And Tie Vote Procedures
Chapter 4. Official Canvass
Article 6. Ballot Security and Reporting of Results
When ballots are counted under this article, the result of the vote shall be shown by precinct.
(a) The statement of the result shall show all of the following:
(1) The total number of ballots cast.
(2) The number of votes cast at each precinct for each candidate and for and against each measure.
(3) The total number of votes cast for each candidate and for and against each measure.
(b) The statement of the result shall also show the number of votes cast in each city, Assembly district, congressional district, senatorial district, State Board of Equalization district, and supervisorial district located in whole or in part in the county, for each candidate for the offices of presidential elector and all statewide offices, depending on the offices to be filled, and on each statewide ballot proposition.
The elections official shall send to the Secretary of State within 35 days of the election in an electronic format in the manner requested one complete copy of all results as to all of the following:
(a) All candidates voted for statewide office.
(b) All candidates voted for the following offices:
(1) Member of the Assembly.
(2) Member of the Senate.
(3) Member of the United States House of Representatives.
(4) Member of the State Board of Equalization.
(5) Justice of the Court of Appeal.
(6) Judge of the superior court.
(c) All persons voted for at the presidential primary. The results for all persons voted for at the presidential primary for delegates to national conventions shall be canvassed and shall be sent within 28 days after the election.
(d) The vote given for persons for electors of President and Vice President of the United States. The results for presidential electors shall be endorsed “Presidential Election Returns.”
(e) All statewide measures.
(f) The total number of ballots cast.
Chapter 5. Announcement Of Results
The Secretary of State, commencing with the first results from the semifinal official canvass received from the elections officials, shall compile the results for the offices and measures listed in Section 15151, which compilation shall be continued without adjournment until completed. The Secretary of State shall immediately make public the results of the compilation as to those offices and measures. The Secretary of State also shall compile and make those results reported pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 15375 available to any person or organization upon request.
(a) Except as to presidential electors, the Secretary of State shall compile the results for all of the following:
(1) All candidates for statewide office.
(2) All candidates for Assembly, State Senate, Congress, State Board of Equalization, Supreme Court, and Courts of Appeal.
(3) All statewide measures.
(b) The Secretary of State shall prepare, certify, and file a statement of the vote from the compiled results no later than the 39th day after the election.
(c) The Secretary of State may gather returns for local elections, including, but not limited to, the following:
(1) Candidates for county office.
(2) Candidates for city office.
(3) Candidates for school and district office.