Aug 10 Excerpt: Audit Organization, Chain of Custody, and Report Timeliness

Procedures Unenforceable, Current Laws Insufficient

As we have noted in previous reports, discussions with representatives of the Secretary of the State’s Office and the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) indicate that many, if not all, of the post-election audit procedures, including those covering chain-of-custody, are unenforceable.  There is no incentive for following the procedures and no penalty for disregarding them.

We note that the adherence to prescribed chain-of-custody and ballot security procedures varies widely among audited districts. Laws that govern the sealing of ballots, memory cards, and tabulators after an election are unclear. Ballots are not uniformly maintained in secure facilities and access to these storage facilities is not reliably logged or recorded, even though two individuals are required to be present when these facilities are accessed.  In many towns, each registrar could have individual, unsupervised access to the sealed ballots, and in many towns, several other individuals have such access.  The lack of uniform security of the ballots diminishes confidence in the integrity of the ballots which are the basis for the data reported in an audit.

We emphasize that this report does not question any individual’s integrity.  However, a safe, credible system of security procedures should not enable a single individual to have any extended opportunity to access ballots unobserved.

Some responses to our questions surveying election officials as part of the audit:

Who has access to the ballot storage area and keys to the storage area? – registrars and deputies [A response typical of many municipalities, while many also limit access to either registrar][1]

How is the ballot storage area secured? – Combination Lock.

Who has access to the ballot storage area and keys to the storage area? – Town Clerk and Registrars

According to interview, [registrars] have repeatedly asked for secure storage in budget but have been denied. They used to store election materials in basement but then it got flooded so they stopped storing things in basement. Ballots are stored under the registrar’s desk behind boxes; no sign-in or other security procedure for safeguarding- only registrars and janitor have keys to office.

Procedures Are Not Being Followed, Understood

The Secretary of the State’s Office continues to publish incrementally improved audit procedures for each election, often basing those improvements on suggestions from Coalition members.  However, they are frequently not followed, are not enforced, and, as noted previously, may not be enforceable. Additionally, the procedures still lack detailed guidance in efficient methods of counting that provide accurate and observable results. See Section D below.

In early 2010 the Secretary of the State’s Office initiated a joint effort between representatives of their office, the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut (ROVAC), Coalition representatives and others. Several improvements were made to the official audit procedures based on this initiative; however, more extensive improvements await consolidation, review, and agreement. We applaud the motivation for the initiative and would like it to reach full fruition.

For this election, unfortunately, in a laudable effort to produce procedures that do not have to change for each election type, the procedures included incomplete directions for selecting races under all conditions. The directions omitted were for primary elections, the very type of election held in August. Although corrected by a subsequent email note, this caused confusion in several municipalities, resulting in unnecessarily doubling the races counted.

Our observations indicate that some towns do a good job of using the procedures in the audit, following each step in order, and enhancing them with effective detailed counting methods.  However, in other towns, there is no evidence that election officials are referencing or following the procedures.   Some who attempt to follow the steps do not seem to understand them and appear to be reading the procedures for the first time at the start of the session.

Problems uncovered in this observation include: incorrectly completed forms, notification issues, chain-of-custody problems, transparency, and actions contrary to procedures and the law.

Notification to Selected Towns and to the Public

We recognize an improvement in notification of towns by the Secretary of the State’s Office. As in past audits, some towns reported they had not been officially notified of their selection for audit for several days after the district random selection.

Procedures require that municipalities provide the Secretary of the State’s Office with three business days’ notice of the schedule.  We note continued progress in this area, yet there is still room for improvement:

  • Most towns selected for the audit set their date several days in advance.  By early in the audit period we had all the audit dates.  This is a significant improvement.
  • Obtaining dates for all the towns still takes a significant amount of work, especially in contacting small towns with limited office hours for the Registrars of Voters Office.  We call all towns daily, starting two days after the drawing, until we have an audit date.
  • Even with the cooperation of the Secretary of the State’s Office, which notifies us when it is notified by municipalities, we learn the vast majority of audit dates and times from calling the registrars.
  • For this election, we realized that there is no reliable mechanism for the public (or the Coalition) to be notified when an alternate district is required to hold an audit counting session. We discovered some changes when, in response to our calls, registrars indicated they were no longer required to audit a district.  In another case our only indication was the Audit Report submitted by the municipality and provided to us by the Secretary of the State’s Office after the audit.

Incorrectly Completed Forms and Incomplete Audit Counting

Reviewing the seventy-two (72) district reports submitted by forty-six (46)[2] municipalities to the Secretary of the State, we note that;

  • Six (6) reporting forms were not accurately completed.  Without complete information, it is difficult to create comprehensive statistics or to depend on the audits as a vehicle for assessing the voting machines’ accuracy and correct programming.
    • Two (2) towns did not fill in the appropriate columns on the form
    • Three (3) towns did not provide overall ballot count totals counted as part of the audit, as required or filled in obviously incorrect numbers.
  • Six (6) towns counted more races and contests than the minimum one per party
    • Four (4) counted three Republican races based on incorrect/ambiguous procedures, which led officials to interpret that counting all Federal races plus one other race was required.
    • Two (2) counted all races for both parties in the primary.

Multiple Chain of Custody Concerns

In several observations [3] , observers expressed concerns with the chain of custody in the several ways.  Overall, in eight (8) municipalities, observers expressed overall concerns with the chain of custody, including:

  • One (1) town sealed ballots via a sticky note.
  • Two (2) observations noted that ballots were delivered to the audits in cardboard boxes without numbered tamper evident seals.
  • One (1) unsealing of the ballots was conducted without access to the moderator’s report, so that the seal number could not be verified as the same seal applied on Election Night.
  • One (1) observation report noted that the ballots are stored under the registrar’s desk.

Selected observer comments:

The Ballots were in the machine stand and the seal was like a sticky note that came off intact without any effort – it was in no way a tamper resistant seal. When machine tender/counter resealed the machine he complained that the post-it note type seal was tough to get to stick. It kept falling off onto the floor.

One Registrar arrived with the ballots.

No seal number on the tape sealing the box inside the canvas ballot bag. Also, there was no public announcement of the seal number on the canvas bag, or comparison to a number on the Moderator’s return…Where were the ballots stored after the election? – In a storage room within the town hall on shelves…Locked

The ballots were tape sealed in a cardboard box. The moderator returns listed the seal numbers on the tabulator unit and the carrying case…Ballots were returned to the cardboard box and re-taped. No Seals

Serious Issue with Ballots in One Municipality

One serious issue in one district in one municipality deserves note in this audit: Several districts in one town were selected, but in one case in the municipality, the ballot bag contained only blank ballots.  From our observer:

I was told that ballots were kept in the room where the audit occurred. However, unused ballots apparently go to a different storage site, and the first bag opened contained unused ballots. I was told that the actual ballots must have gone back to the other storage facility and that the moderator “must have sealed the wrong bag… To my knowledge no one made the Elections Division of the Office of the SOTS aware of this as the Audit Procedure Manual mandates should be done “immediately.”

In subsequent discussions with the registrar, she reported that a novice moderator in a multiple district polling place had sealed all voted ballots in one bag and all unused ballots in another bag.  The Secretary of the State’s Office had checked-off this district as returning a report and did not notice the report was missing until it was pointed out by the coalition.


The Secretary of the State’s Audit Procedures state that observers should be allowed to view every aspect of the proceedings. Once again, we point out that the random selection of races is performed in a separate event from the audit and, unlike the counting session, the race drawing is not required by law to be public. However, a public drawing requirement appears in the Secretary of the State’s Post-Election Audit Procedures.

We appreciated that several towns held their race selection publicly at the beginning of the audit.

All aspects of the audit and as much as possible of the entire selection process should be transparent, open to the public, and publicized in advance in an easily accessed announcement.  The audit procedures distributed by the Secretary of the State recommend these practices. Audit credibility would be enhanced if the race selection were part of the Secretary of the State’s random selection of districts or was required to be announced and held publicly in each selected municipality.

In one municipality we had one issue with observability which was quickly resolved:

Before the audit started registrar said I had to sit in seats at side of room. I insisted that she follow the procedures which said I could get close enough to see the marks on the ballot. She insisted that [lawyer in SOTS Office] said at the ROVAC training that I could not get that close and if I intimidated the counters I must move[4]. Once the audit began I moved close enough to observe everything and the issue was not raised again.

In late January, after the November 2008 audit, and again after the November 2009, there were post-audit investigations conducted by the Secretary of the State’s Office, recounting ballots in several towns where large discrepancies were reported or reports were incomplete.  Those investigations were not announced publicly and not open to public observation.  The transparency and confidence in the official state audit report would be enhanced, if such investigations were announced and open to the public.

Guidance, Training, and Attention to Counting Procedures Inadequate, Inconsistently Followed

Audit Organization and Counting Procedures:

Observers expressed concerns that many of the audits were not well organized.   Compared to November 2009 there were improvements across the board, some moderate and some significant, yet overall unsatisfactory to provide an accurate and credible audit.

Observer Concern Aug 2010 Nov
Concerns that the auditing was not well organized. 32%[5] 39%
Concerns with the integrity of the counting and totaling process. 11% 15%
Concerns that the manual count was inaccurate. 9% 51%
Concerns that the results on the reporting forms were inaccurate. 16% 18%
Audits with counts that did not originally match, the votes or ballots were recounted a second time 100% 60%
The supervisor attributed discrepancies in ballot counts to “human error” on the official audit report forms 0% 22%

Table 1: Observer concerns with organization and counting procedures

Sample observer comments indicating concerns:

Instructions were given before everyone showed up and may be why the [counters for one party] did not follow instructions. Supervisors did not oversee the counters so while they reminded counters to check each other’s work they were unaware that the [counters for one party] were sorting 4 piles of ballots into a single pile for each candidate so no one was checking anyone’s work. The closing seal number was left blank for [one district’s] report’; the closing seal number for [one district] was recorded on [another district’s] closing seal number on [another report] was left blank.

“Two eyes” method never used. Lack of clear procedures would be more troublesome with larger voter turnout and more races audited. One audit team member chit-chatted while the Moderator spoke. [One party’s] audit team had trouble counting and understanding the system, in spite of the tiny number of ballots they were responsible for counting.

The audit was really not supervised, each team did things its own way based on their reading of the procedures. I did not observe the ballots being taken to the room or returned to storage but the greater concern was the total inadequacy of the seals placed on the machines. I also cringed each time one of the registrars told the counters how many votes they had to “find” for the counts to match – and both registrars did this repeatedly.

Need for Dual Verification

Observers noted that audit counting procedures requiring “two eyes”, i.e., dual verification of counts, were frequently ignored. When a large number of ballots are counted by a single individual, miscounts can require tiring recounts and unnecessary investigation. When single individuals count hundreds of ballots or votes, errors are almost inevitable.  This time more municipalities used the stacking method in counting a single race, yet a lower percentage verified the count. Here results are mixed, yet unsatisfactory, when compared to November 2009.

Observation Aug 2010 Nov
When using the hash mark counting method, a second official did verify that votes were read accurately by the first official. 74% 47%
When using the hash mark counting method, a second official did verify that hash marks were recorded accurately. 65% 49%
When using the stacking method a second official did verify that votes were stacked correctly. 69% 83%
When using the stacking method a second official verify that each stack was counted accurately. 75% 86%

Table 2: Observations of dual verification

Blind Counting

Blind counting is a method of counting without pre-conceived knowledge of the expected outcome.  When counting teams know the tabulator totals or know the differences between their counts and the machine totals, there is a natural human tendency to make the hand count match the machine count.  This tempts counters to take shortcuts and seek cursory explanations for discrepancies which, in turn, lowers the credibility of the process and undermines confidence in the audit results.  Here we see moderate, yet still unsatisfactory, improvements over the November 2009 audits.

Observation Aug 2010 Nov
Counters were not aware of ballot or race counts from the election while they were counting 67% 57%
When counts were off, counters were not informed of the level of difference while they were recounting 38% 33%

Table 3: Observations of blind counting

Some observers’ comments[6]:

It appeared to me that they were more concerned with having the ballot and vote totals match what the machines reported rather than actually recording what they counted by hand without bias towards the machine totals.

After the first count, counters were told that they were off by 4 votes from the machine total. A discussion ensued about potentially mismarked ballots and which ones were or were not possibly responsible for the discrepancy. Eventually, the ballots were recounted and the total matched the second time.

Officials let counters know how many votes they needed to ‘find’ in every instance of a discrepancy.

One team referenced the Tally Sheet from Election night. They recounted their votes until the figures agreed.

Confusion in Definitions of Ballots with Questionable Votes

There continues to be confusion in the definitions of “ballots with questionable votes” (marks that the machine may have misread) and those ballots that should be considered “undisputed”:

  • On the official reporting form, some towns fail to classify any ballots as having any questionable votes.
  • There is often confusion between differences in voters’ intent that would not be recognized by the scanner and marks that may or may not have been read by machine.
  • Observers report a wide variety of interpretations, counting methods, and classification methods.  In some towns counting ballots with questionable votes are left to individual teams; in others they are counted by the supervisors; often the frustration and uncertainty of questionable ballot counting leads to much confusion in the totaling of votes.

There is a need for further examples of questionable votes, clarification of ambiguities, and instructions on how to classify and count questionable votes in the procedures.

Overall there was less confusion with questionable votes in this election and fewer such votes.  We hope this is a positive trend but it may be a function of the simpler, smaller number of ballots and races counted.

Official Audit Report Timeliness

We also note what seem to be unnecessary delays in the timeliness in the availability of official reports- delays, which, if discrepancies are discovered, may hinder or preclude changes in time for subsequent elections.

  • Municipal counting was required to be complete by September 15, 2010, however, several municipalities did not return forms to the Secretary of the State’s Office until at least October 15, 2010
  • The University of Connecticut (UConn) is required by law to create a report after each post-election audit, typically these reports are released at least five months after post-election audits.[7]

We continue to recommend that the law be changed to require that reports be completed, submitted to the Secretary of the State, and made public within a specified time after each election or primary.

[1] All comments in this document from observers and officials have been edited for length, spelling, grammar, and to make meanings clear.

[2] As of the date of this report, one municipality had not provided a report to the Secretary of the State’s Office, however the unofficial report collected by our observer was used.  Another municipality did not audit one district and thus provided on less report than required.

[3] Although we observed a total of forty-five (45) counting sessions, we did not observe every attribute of every audit:  Some questions did not apply in some audits; observers could not fully observe audits that continued beyond one day etc.

[4] Note: Neither the Coalition or the observer is saying what the SOTS Official said.  This is what the observer reported the registrar said.

[5] All percentages in this table and the following tables are percentages of the observations of a particular item.  Typically an observer answers Yes, No, N/A, or Not Observed. Thus the percentage is typically based on the total of Yes and No answers.

[6] Additional relevant comments are contained in the appendix.

[7] The Nov 2009 Election report was released April 2010; the Nov 2008 Election report was released May 2009; the Aug 2008 Primary report has yet to be released; and the February 2008 Presidential Primary report was released Oct 2008: