Monitoring Ballot Counts

Introduction

This posting is about monitoring vote counts in California – a summary. We will be updating it frequently in June, 2016, so we suggest that you come back for a refresher, and the latest ideas.


Overview

Elections in the US are chaotic. While Constitution gives the House of Representatives to organize elections for its members, it has so far chosen to leave elections to the states. The states in turn, mostly let the counties administer elections. The result is that the rules change from county to county. There are 58 counties in California, so we have 58 rulebooks.

You’re not likely to see something significant. Most of the time, things run as they should. But occasionally, observers spot something, and sometimes are able to get it corrected. More importantly, your presence reminds election officials that theses elections are public, and that the public cares, and has the right to watch how our votes are being counted. It’s harder for things to go wrong, when more people are watching.


Ballot Counts

After the election, there are several ballots counts that California counties conduct:

  • Ballots cast at the polling place. These are the ballots that the voter inserted into the precinct scanner, or in some cases (Santa Clara County), placed into a ballot box/bag for central scanning at county HQ.
  • Provisional ballots: These are ballots cast by voters who may or may not be qualified to vote.Processing starts with determining if the voter had the right to vote. If so, they then count the ballot, probably by scanner.
  • Vote by mail ballots. These must have been postmarked by election night, and may arrive 3 days later.Processing these ballots takes 2 steps. The first is to inspect the envelope containing the ballot, to determine if it is from a qualified voter. The name and signature are checked against official records. If that is OK, they then open the envelope, and place the ballot in a separate stack to be counted, probably by scanner.
  • Public manual tally if “1% of precincts”. The law states that the counties shall randomly select 1% of the precincts in the county, and hand count the ballots from those precincts, to check them against the announced totals. If there is a discrepancy, they need to determine where it came from. For statisticians, this is not a very good check, but it’s better than none at all.
    • Elections code 15360

      (c) The elections official shall use either a random number
      generator or other method specified in regulations that shall be
      adopted by the Secretary of State to randomly choose the initial
      precincts, batches of vote by mail ballots, or direct recording
      electronic voting machines subject to the public manual tally.

      (d) The manual tally shall be a public process, with the official
      conducting the election providing at least a five-day public notice
      of the time and place of the manual tally and of the time and place
      of the selection of the precincts, batches, or direct recording
      electronic voting machines subject to the public manual tally prior
      to conducting the selection and tally.

      (e) The official conducting the election shall include a report on
      the results of the 1 percent manual tally in the certification of
      the official canvass of the vote. This report shall identify any
      discrepancies between the machine count and the manual tally and a
      description of how each of these discrepancies was resolved. In
      resolving any discrepancy involving a vote recorded by means of a
      punchcard voting system or by electronic or electromechanical vote
      tabulating devices, the voter verified paper audit trail shall govern
      if there is a discrepancy between it and the electronic record.

  • Recounts

    Regulations

    Important: Certification regulations lay out more rules about what records are to be kept, and rules for observers. See the bottom part of this page for more information about the systems in California.

  • SoS Regulations Page
  • California Code of Regulations, Division 7. Secretary of State
  • Voting System Approval
  • Ballot Printer Certification

    Rules for observing

    State law set some of the rules. State regulations, decided by the Secretary of State, determine some of them. The rest is left up to the county election officials.

    The “Elections Observation Rights and Responsibilities – May 2012”, written by the California Secretary of State’s office in here [pdf format].


    What to Do

    • Locate the website for your county. You can find that here: http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting-resources/county-elections-offices.
    • Read the observers’ manual for your county.
      • You are not allowed to interfere with the count.
      • Generally you want to note what is going on, when. If you see something egregious, you might mention it to the person in charge – politely, and when they have a free moment.
      • Find out when and where counts are taking place.
      • Go and watch. Note any anomalies.
        • You willl learn that there is a rhythm to what they are doing. If there is a break in the rhythm – note that, and pay attention.

    • Note the that the California Voter Bill of Rights, section 2300 states:
      • (9) (A) You have the right to ask questions about election procedures and observe the election process.
      • (9) (B) You have the right to ask questions of the precinct board and elections officials regarding election procedures and to receive an answer or be directed to the appropriate official for an answer. However, if persistent questioning disrupts the execution of their duties, the board or election officials may discontinue responding to questions.
      • (10) You have the right to report any illegal or fraudulent activity to a local elections official or to the Secretary of State’s office.

    Resources

    This [page] has links to excellent resources about monitoring elections.


    Voting System Specific Regulations

    These Regulations are important. I’ve included samples of regulations for LA and Sequoia to give you an idea of what goes into them. They were mostly written by Debra Bowen.


    Diebold/Premier

    These counties include Fresno, Marin, Placer, San Diego, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara

    Diebold rules are [here]


    ES&S

    These counties include Contra Costa, Sacramento, Stanislaus, Solano

    ES&S Rules are [here]


    Hart Intercivic

    These counties are Orange, San Mateo and Yolo

    Hart Intercivic rules are [here].


    Dominion

    Dominion Democracy Sutie rules are [here].


    DFA Mark-A-Vote (Sonoma)

    DFA Mark-A-Vote rules are [here].


    Sequoia

    These counties include Alameda, Kern, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Tulare, Ventura

    • Optech Insight, AVC Edge 5.0, and Optech 400C, California Procedures
    • Withdrawal Of Approval Of Sequoia Voting Systems

      • 18. Within 60 days of the original issuance of this document on August 3, 2007, the vendor, working with elections officials, must develop and submit to the Secretary of State for approval, specific detailed requirements and Use Procedures for vote results auditing and reconciliation, review of audit logs and retention of election documentation to validate vote results and detect unauthorized manipulation of vote results, including, but not limited to:
        • Precinct level ballot accounting;
        • Identification of abnormal voting patterns on VeriVote audit trails; and
        • Reconciliation of variances between electronic and manual audit vote results.
      • 21. Elections officials are required to conduct a 100% manual tally, by the process described in Elections Code section 15360, of the electronic results tabulated on each DRE machine in use on Election Day. Notice to the public of this manual tally may be combined with the notice required by any other manual tally required in this order or by Elections Code section 15360.
      • 22. Each polling place must be equipped with a method or log in a format specified by the Secretary of State after consultation with elections officials to record all problems and issues with the voting equipment in the polling place as reported by voters or observed by poll workers. Such records must include the following information for each event:
        • Date and time of occurrence;
        • Voter involved, if any;
        • Equipment involved;
        • Brief description of occurrence;
        • Actions taken to resolve issue, if any; and
        • Elections official(s) who observed and/or recorded the event

        All such event logs or reports must be made available to the public for inspection and review upon request. Prior to or concurrent with the certification of the election, the elections official must submit a report to the Secretary of State of all reported problems experienced with the voting system and identifying the actions taken, if any, to resolve the issues.

      • 24. Elections officials must develop appropriate security procedures for use when representatives of qualified political parties and bona fide associations of citizens and media associations, pursuant to their rights under Elections Code section 15004, check and review the preparation and operation of vote tabulating devices and attend any or all phases of the election. The security procedures must permit representatives to observe at a legible distance the contents of the display on the vote tabulating computer or device. This requirement may be satisfied by positioning an additional display monitor or monitors in a manner that allows the representatives to read the contents displayed on the vote tabulating computer or device while also observing the vote tabulating computer or device and any person or persons operating the vote tabulating computer or device.
      • 32. Any jurisdiction using this voting system shall, prior to such use in each election, file with the California Secretary of State a copy of its Election Observer Panel
        plan.

    Los Angeles
    • Procedures Required for Use of the InkaVote Optical Scan Voting System AKA InkaVote Procedures
      • 3.6 Tally Processing (Semi-Final Official Canvass)
      • 3.8 Official Canvass Processing
        • 3.8.1 Canvassing Provisional Ballots
        • 3.8.2 Canvassing Precincts
        • 3.8.4 Canvassing VBM Voter Ballots
        • 3.8.5 Canvassing Write-In Votes
        • 3.8.6 Canvass Tally Updates
      • 3.9 Manual 1% Recount Tally
      • 3.10 Tally Updates (update computer counts)
      • 4.0 Vote Determination
        • 4.1 Valid Votes
        • 4.2 Invalid Votes
      • 5.0 Post Election Procedures
        • 5.1 Checking Unused Ballots
        • 5.2 Vote Recorders
        • 5.3 Retention of Election Materials
        • 5.4 Adherence to Established Procedures
        • 5.5 Manual Recount
      • 6.0 Election Security Provisions
        • 6.1 Ballot Counting System Security
        • 6.2 Audit Trails
        • 6.3 Statistical Ballot Data Required
      • 7.0 Certification And Reporting Requirements
        • 7.3 Election Observer Panel
        • 7.7 Preparation of Specific Written Procedures
          Each elections official shall prepare specific written procedures for each phase, step and procedure in the preparation, operation of polling places, vote counting and official canvasses of elections. Written procedures must also include instructions to precinct officials regarding proper handling of absent voter and provisional voter ballots as well as a description of procedures used to manually recount ballots pursuant to Elections Code section 15600.
    • LA:
      Additional Conditions On Use Of The Microcomputer Tally System

      • 5
        • (A) Los Angeles County elections officials shall conduct a Logic and Accuracy (L&A) test on each card reader being used in the election before and after each official tally run. If the pre-run L&A test fails for any reader, that reader shall not be used for the official tally run. If the post-run L&A fails for any reader, all precincts run through that reader will be deleted from the central tally results and reprocessed through a different reader.
        • (B) To further verify the accuracy of the initial machine count and to help ensure that any potential miscounts are detected and corrected, Los Angeles County elections officials must include in the 1 % manual tally required by Elections Code section 15360 at least one randomly selected precinct from each card reader used in the Election Night tally. For any card reader used in the Election Night tally that is not represented in the initial random selection conducted to comply with Elections Code section 15360, Los Angeles County must conduct an additional random selection among the precincts that were counted by each unrepresented card reader and add the randomly selected precinct or precincts to the sample to be manually tallied pursuant to Elections Code section 15360.
        • (C) If any variance between the semifinal official canvass results and the manual tally results is discovered in the completion of the 1 % manual tally required under 5(B) above, elections officials must document and disclose each variance and take the following steps to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the election results:
          • (1) Elections officials must calculate a variance percentage for each contest by dividing the total number of variances found in the 1 % sample by the total ballots cast in the 1 % sample for that contest as counted in the manual tally (not including under- and overvotes). A “variance” means each difference between the card reader result and manual tally result for each measure or office. A variance does not include a difference between the card reader result and manual tally result that is not attributable to card reader miscount.
          • (2) Elections officials must determine whether a “significant variance” -one where the variance percentage is greater than 10% (one-tenth) of the overall margin of victory percentage – exists for each contest. The margin of victory shall be based on semifinal official canvass results, as defined in Elections Code section 353.5. The “margin of victory” is the difference between the first place and the second place candidate in a given contest. For a contest involving a measure, the “margin of victory” is the difference between the “Yes” and the “No” votes. For a multi-winner contest, the “margin of victory” is the difference between the candidate who had just enough votes to win a seat and the ncxt candidate below. For example, for a race with three open seats, the margin of victory would be the difference between the third and fourth place candidates.
          • (3) If no significant variance is found, then elections officials shall include the precinct results in the official tally in accordance with Elections Code section 15360. Ifa significant variance is found, then election officials shall take the following steps:
            • (a) If at least three precincts tallied by the same card reader were part
              of the initial 1% random sample, then go to step (4).

            • (b) If less than three precincts tallied by the same card reader were part of the initial 1% random sample, then elections officials shall do the following:
              • (a) If at least three precincts tallied by the same card reader were part of the initial 1% random sample, then go to step (4).
              • (b) If less than three precincts tallied by the same card reader were part of the initial 1% random sample, then elections officials shall do the following:
                • i. Randomly select additional precincts tallied by the same card
                  reader to reach a total of three.

                • ii. Manually tally the additional precincts.
                • iii. Go to step (4) below.
          • (4) Calculate variance percentages for each contest based on the combined results from the three or more precincts tallied by the same card reader that were part of the initial 1 % random sample. If no significant variance is found, then elections officials shall include the precinct results in the official tally in accordance with Elections Code section 15360. (Stop) If a significant variance is found, then go to step (5).
          • (5) Delete all precincts that were run through that reader on Election Night from the central tally results.
          • (6) Reprocess them through a different reader on which no significant variance was discovered during the initial manual tally process.
          • (7) Compare the earlier manual tally results of the three (or more) precincts
            with the new machine count results for those precincts.
            If no significant variance is found, then elections officials shall include
            the precinct results in the official tally in accordance with Elections
            Code section 15360. (Stop)
            If a significant variance is found, then go back to step (5) and reprocess
            the results through a different reader on which no significant variance
            was discovered during the initial manual tally process. Elections
            officials may repeat this process if significant variances are discovered
            again, but only if there are additional card readers available on which no
            significant variance was discovered during the initial manual tally
            process.

          • (8) If there are no additional card readers available on which to conduct
            steps (5)-(7), then elections officials shall begin a manual tally of the precincts that were run through that reader on Election Night. The
            manual tally shall be continued until there is no longer a significant
            variance or all ballots have been manually tallied.
        • (D) Elections officials shall keep a log to record the MTS Card Reader Verification
          Requirements process, including the results of each round of manual tallying for
          each precinct included in the sample, how variances were resolved, and details of
          any actions taken that are contrary to written protocols. The log must be made
          available to the public.

        • (E) To avoid manually counting the same precinct under two separate processes, if a precinct has been randomly selected for a manual tally under these requirements, elections officials may use any manual tally results for the precinct obtained as part of either of the following:
          • (1) The 1% manual tally conducted pursuant to Elections Code section 15360; or
          • (2) The Post Election Manual Tally Requirements, which only apply in contests where the margin of victory is less than one half of one percent (0.5%).
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