UConn lab helps state with election auditing

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Despite a very unordinary 2020 election, a University of Connecticut laboratory dedicated to election auditing is maintaining its ordinary election routine of ensuring Connecticut’s vote tabulators did their jobs correctly. 

Alexander Russell, a professor of computer science at UConn, is part of a team that has partnered with the secretary of state’s office at UConn to help audit election results each year. 

The lab (audits), funded by the state, is made up of five full-time professors and engineers from UConn, as well as a team of undergraduate and graduate students. For the last few years, the state has even used software written by UConn professionals to double-check the reported numbers. 

“The registrar of voters for [a] polling station takes all of their hand-marked ballots to the secretary of state’s office and we use some software written at UConn to retabulate the ballots,” Russell said. “We’ve got a scanner and a computer and it tabulates that election. It does that human-assisted as it shows every ballot one by one and the human verifies it.” 

Each election, Connecticut randomly selects five percent of reporting precincts to audit in order to verify the tabulators did their job correctly. 

“We’ve got a scanner and a computer and it tabulates that election. It does that human-assisted as it shows every ballot one by one and the human verifies it.” 

Picture of the building in which the Uconn lab for election auditing is. Photo by Kevin Lindstrom

“In the United States, election procedures are really determined at the state level,” Russell said. “If you look across the United States, you’ll see a range of nothing at all, to what Connecticut does, to even more aggressive, even to the level of [auditing] all the ballots in the state.” 

Audits differ from recounts in that audits ensure machines are working properly, while recounts involve manual labor to verify results were accurate, Russell said. 

“The good news when it comes to a state like Connecticut is that they use paper ballots,” Russell said. “If in Connecticut you ever find a reason to be suspicious, you have the luxury of going back and doing a reliable hand-count of the entire precinct to put any uncertainties to rest.” 

According to Russell, audits typically do not change election results. 

“The hope is every time you do an audit, the original tally and the audited tally are identical or can be explained a certain way,” Russell said. 

According to the Audit Procedure Manual from the secretary of state’s office, these “explained in a certain way” ballots Russell referred to are mismarked ballots. These mismarks include ballots where the voter slashed the bubble of their choice rather than bubbling it in. Auditors use this information to see how the machine read this marking, while a recount would see if that vote counted towards the final tally. 

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