Tabloid-style assertions about the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath ignore a more nuanced reality that cries out for attention. That reality has to do with human nature that is less splashy than the contested 2020 charges.
So, based on fact and feeling, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans – all Americans — deserve an alternative that gives us the power to restore faith in our electoral system.
And we can start moving in that direction this November by independently auditing up to 10,000 election administrations that operate 113,000 polling places in 56 federal jurisdictions.
Many of these election chiefs work with inadequate budgets. No wonder it is sometimes difficult to fill staff positions. Or adequately train staff and election-day workers.
Not surprisingly, though, the lack of money and manpower can lead to human error.
That’s where Democracy Counts plays a role. The nonpartisan, nonprofit tech group provides election-monitoring apps for free online. You can get the Actual Vote app here and here. It documents how polling stations report the vote count.
Clearly, citizen auditors acting independently of government employees won’t win Emmys or Oscars for their effort. However, Citizens Audit Broward accomplished something both mundane and important when it was formed in partnership with Democracy Counts.
The local Florida organization discovered some of the 2020 government-reported vote counts were different than the vote counts on polling place poll tapes. You can read the report here.
The findings came to light after volunteer election sleuths gathered clues by uploading the Actual Vote app to cell phones and tablets. Citizen auditors then took pictures of the poll tapes that display the final vote count at polling stations. Digital technology in the Actual Vote app forwarded the information to Democracy Counts for storage and analysis.
That’s how Democracy Counts learned that Broward County sometimes awarded more votes to candidates than polls tapes recorded. The results were not enough to change an election outcome. But the beta test proved a point: citizen auditors, fanning out across the land, can produce data that serves as a check on the vote counts government agents report to the public.
And if the numbers are off enough to possibly change who won, then affected parties will have concrete information to present to a judge.
With election-rigging charges still ringing in our ears, November is a great time to start using Actual Vote nationally.
Dan Wolf, the Harvard-trained attorney who created Democracy Counts in 2016, offered another wrinkle on the 2020 Broward County findings. But he did not charge that fraud had happened.
Instead, Wolf contended, “… the errors may be symptoms of a general sloppiness, a sloppiness that can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous partisan actors. If errors such as these were to be repeated enough times across enough precincts in a state, the cumulative errors could easily flip a close state or national election.”
So, I emailed Peter Antonacci twice requesting comment. He served as Broward Supervisor of Elections in 2020. I have not heard back from him. Antonacci, though, is now the first Director of the Office of Election Crimes and Security in Florida.
Getting a clear picture of vote reporting is important, but it is about half of the story.
Wolf’s group is beta testing another free app now. Called Wanna Vote, it will be used by civil society groups in at least the 2024 presidential swing states. Wanna Vote lets volunteer auditors document allegations of voter suppression. It also generates data that Democracy Counts analysts can use to verify vote counts. The app-auditing process is the nonprofit, nonpartisan Democracy Counts project now called America Counts.
Wanna Vote debuted in 2016 as a free app in three polling places in three cities in California, says Wolf, who is no election audit novice. He was a member of an election monitoring mission to Nicaragua and a senior adviser to the US Senate election monitoring mission to Taiwan.
Wolf, though, is not a one-man band. He works with a small team that includes Anne Wayman, the COO, and Jason Flatley, the Head of Design and Product Development.
Flatley is also working with Wolf and others to create more programs to increase election transparency. In an email, he explained, “By 2021, we had dreamed up other important initiatives (such as a National Election Defense and Education Fund, and American Federation of Election Auditors, and more).” This expanded effort led to the establishment of what the group now calls the America Counts election transparency initiative of Democracy Counts.
Peter Hauge, a principal software engineer at Microsoft, serves the election transparency group as a volunteer. He participates as part of Microsoft’s “Hack for Good” program.
In an email, Hauge said, ” I’ve participated in discussions with the board focused around technology – when there are questions about understanding the system, looking at older implementations and what we might need to change to help scale out nationwide, and what leveraging technology can do in terms of providing evidence toward legal arguments in the judicial system.”
He added, “Democracy Counts applied for cloud computing in our Azure system and receives a yearly batch of credits to use in the (Microsoft) cloud. In this way, the organization can run and operate Actual Vote for almost free in the cloud.”
As summer turns to fall, Democracy Counts is gearing up for a national run in the first nationwide election since the controversial 2020 presidential race. A grant request is pending, which, if approved, will let the organization hire staff and analysts to work with citizen auditors across the nation. But Democracy Counts is ready to expand outside of Broward County, Florida this fall, even if they don’t get all of the funding they seek.
In a sense, this undertaking is as American as apple pie. It’s nothing more than a ground-up check on a system of our democracy. And it is necessary now, because of concerns millions have about error and fraud in US elections.
Even if 2020 was the “most secure” election in American history. Even if some election administrators resist or resent outside audits.
We have the power and technology to start rebuilding trust on the night of Nov. 8.
Leave a Reply