Colorado is tabulating the final numbers in the 2015 Coordinated Election. Results on the Secretary of State (SOS) site are found here: Colorado 2015 results by county.
Eight counties are currently running their election with new hardware and voting system software from 4 companies. On Dec. 15 the SOS Pilot Election Review Committee (PERC) will make a recommendation to the SOS about what system or systems should be made available for purchase by Colorado counties. Reportedly 24 counties are interested in purchasing replacement vote tabulation equipment (and software) in 2016 prior to primary elections. PERC is a public body and its meetings are recorded and testimony to it is posted here: CO SOS PERC website.
Reportedly on Dec. 31 2015 the Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams will decide what system or systems will be certified for purchase in Colorado. It is my intention to conduct an in depth evaluation of the functionality of these four systems using scans of individual ballots and the associated interpretations of those votes.
Each system creates an anonymous digital record of the marks on each ballot after a each is opened, scanned and then processed to detect the marks. Then exceptional cases are redirected to human adjudication as part of the paper ballot tabulation process The result is presumably an accurate representation of the anonymous voter intent. By checking potentially problematic looking marks on paper or on scans of paper in comparison to the output recorded by the machine for that ballot I can locate ballots that might have been misinterpreted. And I can sum all these interpretations (called cast vote records) to check to see the published results match.
What I am describing is an evaluation of the tabulation portion of a paper ballot election. For practical reasons I will use scans of ballots rather than the actual paper as input. Granted this is not the most perfect approach as the scans could fail to represent something marked on the ballot. Election officials already check some of the ballots to see if a hand count of these will balance against a machine count. This is called the “post election audit.” In 2017 Colorado will enjoy perhaps the first statewide Risk Limiting Audit that will caused judges to methodically hand check random paper ballots against the “cast vote records” and then sum all “cast vote records” to see if the election outcome would change if a hand count of all ballots were conducted.This is approach is part of an “evidence based election.”
A way to go beyond the maximally efficient risk limiting audit is to check more than a minimum number of ballots to see if they match the cast vote records – the records the ballot scanners produce for each ballot. We could even retabulate the entire election from published scans if they are of high enough quality and can be trusted. I have issued Open Records (CORA) requests to the eight counties to get access to these cast vote records and the scans of the voted ballots (after they are deemed to have had any identifying marks removed.) It is simply impractical to get physical access to count that many paper ballots, although I may attempt to check a random set of the scans against the paper if and when I have time. That would require a visit to each county.
What you will find on following pages is the record of the process of my attempt to get access to these important public records for the purpose of a one time massive evaluation of four new voting systems based on collected evidence at election scale. This is an unusual opportunity that is made possible by far better technology in these new systems and Colorado’s transparency laws in the Colorado Open Records Act. What you may find is that there is substantial lack of uniformity in the way the counties treat my requests and their custodianship of the public records.
Another thing that is really quite disturbing is that our election officials are now clearly acknowledging the presence of identifying marks on the ballots although in reality there are probably very few. In Colorado the constitution requires – in Article VII Section 8- that “all elections by the people shall be by ballot, and in case paper ballots are required to be used, no ballots shall be marked in any way whereby the ballot can be identified as the ballot of the person casting it.”
According to our state constitution, it is illegal to make such a mark- whether the voter or an official does it. The state law ironically now authorizes counties to charge me as a member of the public to pay substantial and often insurmountable sums to in effect hide from myself the evidence of a constitutional violation. It would make so much more sense if the county governments would prevent the identifying marks from being made or redact them at the moment of recognition. Then officials could reveal to the public through fulfilled records requests that the unconstitutional cases where identifying marks are present have been remedied. One way many states handle this is to reject ballots that have been made identifiable. Thus they do not become part of a fulfilled request for all tabulated ballots.
What I hope to see is more attention paid to transparency so that Colorado can enjoy with the help of the new generation of voting systems the most verifiable and most verified elections in the United States. The new technology is capable of it- and all that is needed now is an actively interested public and election records custodians who are appreciative of the need for efficient and low cost public access. You will see in the records linked below that some of our officials are taking that approach.
Harvie Branscomb 11/9/2015
Links to county open records requests (CORA) conversations:
Go back to 2015 CORA Archive page