This is really great. But the subsequent information I've received from the Columbia County, NY commissioners in reply to my query is even better!
For a start, here's the key parts of the story from Debora Gilbert at The Columbia Paper near Albany, New York.
Note, in particular, how both the Republican and Democratic commissioners concur on what should not be a partisan issue. They are doing a great service to their voters. Read the story and then I'll share the even better news with you below that...
HUDSON-Columbia County's election commissioners have counted 100% of the paper ballots in every election for the past two years, ever since the county switched to using new voting machines as part of a federal mandate. Their approach can delay the final vote tally and it may seem an odd when technology has taken over so many manual tasks.
But they question the accuracy of the results for the new machines and see no reason to stop checking them by hand.
“The most accurate and reliable method is a 100% visual audit,” Elections Commissioner Jason Nastke (R) said Tuesday. He referred to multiple scanner miscounts in Greenport in a past election. “The machines are not completely reliable,” he said.
“Hand counting allows for voter intent to be taken into consideration,” said Election Commissioner Virginia Martin (D). “If someone has circled rather than filled in the ovals, it counts when the ballots are hand counted, but with machine counting, the only allowed discrepancies involve machine error, not human error.”
Optical scanners were viewed as a welcome alternative when compared to the more expensive and less secure touch screen machines that were the only other option during the push to have counties purchase and install new voting machines in 2009.
In a commentary published in the Times Union newspaper in Albany last week, Buffalo attorney Peter Reese wrote that the new voting system has led to “tens of thousands of invalid overvotes,” citing specific cases, including one near Buffalo that he was involved with. He blames New York's HAVA compliance law.
Many voting activists favored the optical scanning system because it uses paper ballots that should allow an easy method of verification. Many hoped all the ballots would be posted online to allow easy oversight by citizens. But the law only calls for a small, random sampling of 3% of the machines to monitor accuracy. In Columbia County that would mean hand counting the results of one machine, said Ms. Martin. Both commissioners agree that a sample of this size is inadequate.
“The beauty of our situation is that the two election commissioners have agreed in advance to hand count ballots,” said Ms. Martin. After a primary, when one party might have the lead, it would be tougher to agree on something like this, she said.
“Although we're looking into a different kind of audit, it seems easier just to hand count and you have great voter confidence…. We have a very strict chain of custody procedure, with redundancy built into our system. Those who see our accounting procedures know we leave nothing to chance,” Ms. Martin said.
I couldn't be more delighted than to read the above. Well, actually, I could be.
From the story, as written, it was unclear whether or not Columbia was hand-counting in a central location, after ballots were moved from the polling place, or whether they were actually hand-counting at each precinct after the close of polls, with all parties, video-cameras and members of the public overseeing the counting and results posted decentrally at the polling place before ballots are moved anywhere.
So I dropped a note to both Commissioners Nastke and Martin to see if they were counting centrally (after ballots had been moved, and thus, questions about the secure chain of custody could arise) and, if so, whether they had any plans to try hand-counting publicly at the polling place in future elections, as per what we consider around here to be "Democracy's Gold Standard".
I received a very speedy --- and quite encouraging --- reply from Virginia Martin. Here it is in full...
--- Click here for REST OF STORY!... ---