Resolving the Unexpected in Elections: Election Officials' Options Recommended Citation EngagedScholarship@CSU Resolving the Unexpected in Elections: Election Officials' Options Mark Graff Recommended Citation Resolving the Unexpected in Elections: Election Officials' Options
Law Faculty Reports and Comments
Resolving the Unexpected in Elections 2 This paper recognizes the reality of election administration going into a major presidential election. It does not rehash the merits of e-voting or the debates over which type of voting equipment is better than others. Nor does it criticize the equipment undergoing final preparations for use in the November 2008 general election. All of these voting systems have plusses and minuses. Like most other computer-based equipment, these systems can be expected
... s can be expected to perform relatively well for their intended tasks. But computer-based voting equipment also presents possibilities of some unexpected, technically odd behavior that can disrupt election preparations, balloting, or tabulation, and can lead to inaccurate results. A quick managerial review can often identify the cause of the problem, and lead to a simple and complete solution, especially where the technology is familiar. But election officials have advised us that at other times they could not determine the cause and thus left it uncorrected, hoping the election would run smoothly and totals would reconcile. This paper is designed to assist election officials in effectively handling the technical irritations that have been difficult to diagnose, allowing them to protect themselves and the public interest from unfair accusations, inaccuracies in results, and conspiracy theories. The paper's primary goal is to empower officials to recognize which types of voting system events and indicators need a more structured analysis. Its approach seeks to enable officials to evaluate what the next steps should be, and to help them prepare for an inquiry should they decide to schedule it. The authors emphasize that computers can produce incorrect results, because of programming errors, incorrect settings, or insufficient built-in safeguards. No deliberate wrongdoing need occur for computerized voting equipment to fail to perform correctly and no "operator error" need occur-but these are points some fail to grasp when they lodge accusations rather than wait for the truth to come out. An objective, arm's-length examination conducted according to professional standards of allied fields (primarily computer forensics) can: determine both causes and solutions for unexpected and unexplained technical issues; settle questions and lead to broad acceptance of the ultimate report of election results, despite serious questions triggered by a technical equipment performance problem; reduce or eliminate the need for a complete hand-count of affected ballots; stop wild speculations and the "rumor mill"; reduce election litigation; and enhance the public's confidence in the election officials entrusted to conduct the elections and reduce reputation injuries fueled by lack of objective information. Depending on the evidence made available, the quality of the team, and the scope authorized for the review, election officials can obtain the information needed to resolve the problem, determine and validate election results, activate warranty repairs, and-in many cases-learn how to prevent a recurrence. Others involved in resolving questions about election processes and results, such as election agency lawyers, candidates and political parties (and their lawyers), initiative sponsors, advocates, consultants, vendors, and policy makers, may also find this paper useful.