ElectionAudits Software News
Help audit the election!
Proper audits are the gold standard of election integrity - they can tell whether the election system actually counted the real ballots properly. Unfortunately, they are rarely done properly. We need better audits of our elections in order to promote confidence in the results. Thankfully, there are resources to make it easier than it has been in the past, both in terms of procedures and statistical research, and in terms of open source software. If you are willing to talk to your local elections officials, you can make a difference. Read the Background section below for more information.
To do my part, I've worked with the Boulder County Clerk and started the ElectionAudits open source software project to help us audit elections with appropriate statistical significance, and I need help there too! If you're skilled with Python or Django (especially on Windows since it is developed on Ubuntu Linux), database query optimization, xml, xslt, css, setuptools for packaging cross-platform easy_install eggs, statistics, documentation or the like, see the ElectionAudits Software Home Page, download the latest code, and please lend a hand:
We all know there are many questions being raised about the systems used to count votes in our elections. The bottom line, as noted in a paper by MIT voting and security expert Ron Rivest and NIST voting expert John Wack, is the need for "Software Independence":
meaning that election software should not be a critical component which, if it fails, can threaten the results of an election.
That is why we've moving from using unauditable paperless DRE machines to systems based on paper ballots that can be audited. And we're slowly getting there. But even for optical scanner systems we also need to check the software that does the actual tallying and reporting of the results.
Those paper ballots are of little use if we never audit them. And we still have a long way to go on effective audits of elections: the voting systems don't support audits well, the laws and regulations are sparse and often inadequate, and the topic is confusing to many.
This prompted California Secretary of State Debra Bowen to establish Post Election Manual Tally Requirements and issue California proposed emergency regulations for them.
Along with that, recently, experts in elections, statistics, computer science, risk assessment and related fields have been working on better audits, coordinated by ElectionAudits.org, the nation's clearinghouse for election audit information. The latest results are the Principles and Best Practices for Post-Election Audits.
I've been very active in that effort, and convinced Boulder County to do a complete audit, far better than what is currently required in Colorado, starting with an audit of the 2008 Primary in Boulder:
Based on that experience, it was clear we needed software to help deal with the inadequacy of the reports available from our Hart InterCivic BallotNow system, and to make it clearer how to base the work on good statistics. So the software includes the "varsize.py" statistical software from Ron Rivest to guide efficient sampling of the audit units.
See the demo and more at http://neal.mcburnett.org/electionaudits/