This post is in response to a December 29, 2010 editorial in the Times-Union, “Time to fix this election law” by Jay Jochnowitz, Editorial page editor.
“Today’s editorial: When an election is as close as the one in the 7th Senate District was, a recount should be automatic, not left to the judges’ discretion.” http://blog.timesunion.com/opinion/time-to-fix-this-election-law/8371/#comment-2671
Great editorial by Jay Jochnowitz. The Board of Elections, via its own regulations on post-election auditing, gave away its authority to ensure accurate election outcomes by:
1. requiring every county separately audit a flat 3% rate of “machines” that each county selects;
2. neglecting to require the counties to publicly post, or to submit to the Board, election results broken out by precinct (or district) and by absentee and Election Day (thus allowing unaudited district tallies to be manipulated to match any fraudulent overall tally and the audits be not publicly verifiable. In auditing any field, the data needs to be committed prior to the audit);
3. exempting all absentee ballots from any manual checks;
4. not allowing the public to observe the audits, unless appointed by a candidate (unlike most other states);
5. not requiring the counties to reveal their ballot security procedures or allow the public to verify or assist with verification of the security of ballots; and
6. not requiring any jurisdiction-wide reconciliation of the printed ballots to detect any possible ballot substitutions or ballot box stuffing.
The Board of Elections could work with the State Legislature to use the same amount of resources more efficiently and effectively by
1. allowing the audit units to be smaller units than machines (such as districts) as long as the unit tallies are publicly reported prior to the random selections, and
2. allowing risk-limiting audits rather than requiring 3% flat rate audits,
3. requiring random selections from *all* the ballots (reported tallies) that sum to the overall total, and
4. allowing random selections weighted by the upper margin error bounds within each publicly reported tally, rather than requiring a uniform selection probability.
The state legislature needs to change a few laws to enable the Board to exercise more flexibility and use resources more efficiently and effectively, and the Board of Elections needs to work with a mathematician who understands how to conduct risk-limiting post-election audits so that the sample size automatically goes to 100% when needed to limit the risk of certifying incorrect election outcomes.
Jay correctly notes that a 3% sample of “machines”, excluding all absentee ballots from examination, allows a small number of precincts or districts tallies or absentee ballots to be manipulated to change the outcome of a very close contest like the Long Island NYS Senate race, or several other NYS contests in November 2010.
New York State’s current post-election audit procedures provide virtually no public confidence in any close contests.