Pennsylvania Paperless Recount

I wrote before that this month’s re-count activity in Pennsylvania was notable because of the variety of voting methods used there, and hence the variety of recounting methods needed. In contrast to the Lackawanna county that I mentioned specifically, there are many counties in PA that use completely paperless DRE voting machines. In these cases, there are no actual ballots to recount, nor are there paper-trail tape-rolls to examine.

As a result, the recount is more a matter of re-obtaining the vote totals from the DREs, re-doing the tabulation that adds up the machines’ vote totals for the recounted contest, in order to re-compute the election result. This is similar in principle to re-counts of PA’s old lever machines, where the re-count involved re-inspection of counters on the back of each lever machine. One difference in practice, though, is that the lever machine counters could be directly inspected by a person, who would have little doubt that the totals they gather from each machine were in fact recorded by that machine. The DRE’s vote totals are stored re-writable digital storage media that are often separated from the machine itself. And as we saw recently in Myrtle Beach, human error can play a role in that separation.

So, election geek that I am, I’m waiting with interest to hear about the various re-counting methods used, the variances found, how the variance get accounted for, and so on. It should be a very interesting comparison of different means to the same end that one Lackawanna County candidate expressed so well:

Every vote should count. It’s hard enough to get the people to come out and vote. … The election process is under shadow.

Removing that shadow is what PA officials are working hard to do in a scant week of efforts, that along with the efforts of many public-spiritied observers, could teach us all a lot about how recount methods can create transparency as restore trust that every vote counts.


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