Pundits are trying to explain why the New Hampshire results were so different than all the pre-election polls. Was it the tears, the weather, the economy, or the Bradley effect? Most of their theories have either no hard data to back them up, or no way to get any real data.
The exception is the theory that the voting machines counted the ballots incorrectly. New Hampshire will do a partial or full manual recount to rule this out. About 80 percent of the voters in both New Hampshire and Wisconsin mark paper ballots that are counted by optical scan tabulators.
But in Wisconsin, a recount would not show whether the machines counted correctly. For a recount of optical scan ballots, the law was recently changed to mandate that machines be used, instead of a manual count.
Typically the same memory pack or the same software that was used on Election Day is used for the recount. The only exception is via court order, which is a high barrier to forcing a manual count.
The law on recounts should be changed back to the law that was in effect between 1980 and 2006, allowing the Board of Canvassers conducting the recount to decide whether to count by hand or to count by machine.
Pre-election testing of the voting machines is one way to promote accuracy. But Wisconsin had no statewide minimum standards for pre-election testing.
The Government Accountability Board needs to work on rules for pre-election testing and have proposed rules ready by this summer.
Wisconsin has only minimal audits of the vote count. Congressman Rush Holt has just introduced a new bill to reimburse states that volunteer to audit their November 2008 results. Wisconsin should take steps to meet the minimum requirements needed to perform this audit and qualify for reimbursement.
To maintain the integrity of an audit or recount, the ballots must have a secure chain of custody.Wisconsin has a pretty good rule for ballot security, but administrators are routinely ignoring it. Last fall, the state Elections Board incorporated my suggestions for enhancements and a checking mechanism into the security rule. But the new rule has yet to go through the complete approval process.
Inertia is a powerful force. Improvements will not happen unless voters contact their state legislators, the Government Accountability Board, and their congresspersons. If you think Wisconsin's election procedures are pretty good, take a look at the reports on elections by the highly respected Legislative Audit Bureau.
Almost everywhere they look, they find big problems. But so far, they have not been directed by the Legislative Audit Committee to look at what happens after 8 o'clock on election night, regarding the counting of the votes.