Added Votes and the Accuracy of
Los Angeles County Scanners


by Judy Alter

In a study of the exactness of the vote count in Los Angeles County, the scanners not only do not count votes accurately they also add votes not found by hand counting. Trained employees carry out the manual tally with great care, thus, the hand count is the accurately counted result. I studied how often the computer and hand count matched in the Los Angeles County report of the mandatory manual tally of 1% of precincts (62) from November 2005 Special Election and in the 12 snap tallies completed in the June 2006 primary election.

The ballot for the Special Election of November 2005 contained: eight state-wide initiatives, 123 local races, and 16 bond measures. I found in the totals for each contest in each precinct that the hand count and computer count only matched exactly: 28% in the 496 initiatives (62 precincts times 8), 12% in the 123 local races, and 44% in the 16 bond measures. For this 1% manual tally I did not calculate the error rate. In the snap tallies for the June 2006 Primary Election, completed at 12 precincts after the polls closed on election night, poll workers hand counted three races: governor and attorney (for all political parties), and proposition 82. Poll workers completed this hand count of all ballots for these three contests before they were scanned at Los Angeles County election headquarters. No total snap tally exactly matched the scanner count. In separate totals for each candidate running in the primary: i.e., eight Demo­crats and four Republicans for governor, the hand counted snap tally and computer count matched for individual candidates from 27% to 70% of the time. For Proposition 82 no snap tally (hand count) computer comparison matched exactly for both yes and no votes but in two (17%) of the 12 snap tallies the no votes matched.

Total Ballots Cast
I compared computer and hand tally for the total ballots cast (range 18-1206 ballots per precinct) for the initiatives in the 62 precincts and for the 139 local races and bond measures in the small cities where these elections were held in Los Angeles County. The computer and hand tally matched for the total ballots cast for the initiatives in 49 (79%) of the 62 precincts. In the other 13 precincts, the total differences between the computer and the hand count included one to three (total nine) ballots added in the computer count (and needed to be subtracted from the hand-counted totals) and one to three (four total) ballots not counted. In 120 (86%) of 139 local elections and bond measures the manual tally matched for the total ballots cast. In the remain­ing 19 contests the total differences included one to three (20 total) ballots added by the com­puter and one to three (eight total) ballots not read by the computer. The snap tally precinct report did not include the total ballots cast although the official election night reports included them: range 71-195.

No Differences for individual totals
I also counted each specific match for yes, no, or candidate votes for the November 2005 Special Election. Of the 496 initiative reports, the computer and hand tally matched for 95 yes votes and 66 no totals. Among the 544 individual candidates in the 123 local elections, 175 (32%) matched. Among the 16 bond measures (requiring yes or no responses), five yes or no vote counts (16% of 32 responses) matched.

Votes that human eyes read but scanners do not
I identified two separate problems when analyzing the accuracy of the computer counting of votes compared to human beings counting of votes: votes that humans see and votes that they do not see because the votes are not on the ballots. When people examine a ballot for a mark that indicates a vote, people can discern even faint marks. Thus, from the manual tally a logical result will be that the people find more votes than when the computer scanned them. In the manual tallies of the initiatives, the computer missed a total of 436 yes votes and 479 no votes. This total number of missed votes does not consider the error rate per contest: the error rate is low. In the local races, the people doing the manual tally found 643 votes that the computer did not count, and in the bond measures 108 votes. The range of votes missed per contest ranged from 1 to 23. In the snap tallies the computer did not read 98 votes that the poll workers counted, range one to eight per contest.

Votes that human eyes did not find but the scanner ADDED
A more serious finding is when the 1% manual hand tally and snap tally reports showed that the computer counted (added) votes that humans did not find on the ballots. Somehow, in the counting process by the electronic scanner of the ’05 initiatives, the computer added 110 yes votes, and 99 no votes, range one to 17 per contest. Although these numbers, 110 and 99 constitute a very small percentage of the hand tallied votes, the fact that computers can add votes not written by a voter is very disturbing. In local races the computer added 354 votes. In the bond measures, the people found only one vote added. In the computer count of the hand counted snap tallies, the computer added 145 votes, range one to 18 per contest.

The error rate for 12 snap tally precincts for all races is 6.5%. The highest three error rates were for the Republican gubernatorial primary (8%), the Republican attorney general race (7.9% with only one candidate running!) and Prop 82 (7.8%).

Public Notice
I asked Deborah Wright, the Information Liaison Officer for the Los Angeles County Registrar, how the election officials work with the results of this 1% manual tally. Ms. Wright said the employees conducting the manual tally sometimes recount some batches of ballots on another scanner when the manual tally shows high discrepancies. Officials neither notify the candidates when the manual tally shows different winners and losers than the computer count nor do they publicize the findings of the manual tally. The exit poll expert in charge of the snap tally project at the Los Angeles Times used the snap tally information to double-check their exit polls, thus, the accuracy of the vote count was not the goal of conducting snap tallies.

While employees and election officials carry out the mandated manual tally of 1% of Los Angeles County’s precincts with great care, the officials do not use the results to examine the contests further. And the California Election Code offers no guidance about what to do with the results. I only could study and report these results because I requested them.

To conclude, both opportunities to hand count ballots and thereby check the accuracy of the electronic vote count—the manual tally and snap tallies--showed that the electronic scanner/ computer counts produced inaccurate results. If people conducting the manual tally found computer added votes that are not on ballots in 1% of precincts, then I expect that they would also find added votes not on ballots in the remaining 99% of the precincts. This is especially disturbing when election officials include non-existent votes in certified election results. Every real vote counts. Remember that recent elections were won or lost by small vote totals, i.e., 527 for Bush in 2000 in Florida.