Secretary of State Jim Condos is embarking on an exercise to reassure skeptical Vermont voters that the state’s voting equipment counts votes accurately, by auditing voting machines in four randomly selected towns.
On Thursday in Montpelier, Condos will supervise a hand count of votes cast in the state treasurer’s race and the U.S. representative races, in Essex, Barre, Brandon and Newfane, comparing the hand count total to the machine count total.
Condos told VTDigger he hasn’t received specific complaints about these races or towns, describing the procedure as a standard check on the integrity of voting machines used in 108 municipalities, authorized under legislation passed in 2006. The audits can’t change the actual election results, unlike a recount, which has to be requested by a candidate and conducted by a court.
Barre and Essex were randomly selected, while Brandon and Newfane were selected purposefully afterwards to ensure a geographically diverse audit, evenly spread among towns with large and small populations. Only statewide races can be audited, and the two races selected were not chosen for any particular reason, said Condos.
“There are people out there who think the machines can be manipulated,” said Condos, who added that he presently isn’t concerned about serious vote manipulations or errors. “We’re doing this random audit as a continuing effort to ensure the integrity of the election.”
“Because this is done post-canvas, we can’t change the election results,” he explained. “So if we were to find a real problem, then we’d have to look at it the next time to fix it.”
Condos couldn’t put a hard figure to the vote difference between a hand recount and the original machine count which would trigger further action, saying the threshold depended on individual races and towns.
If there’s evidence of fraud, the Secretary of State is required to pass the matter to the attorney general. Condos doesn’t know of any past cases where fraud or error have been attributed to vote counting machines, which were first introduced in some Vermont towns in 1992.
In fact, he said, recounts in 2006 and 2010 for the auditor’s race and the governor’s race respectively indicated that voting machines counts were more reliable than hand counts.
The Secretary of State also conducted random election audits in 2006, 2008, and 2010. In the 2008 audit of the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s race, the largest vote change between a hand count and an electronic count came to 11 votes, in Stowe.
Towns must first pass a vote allowing the use of vote counting machines, before they’re adopted by local elections officials. Condos estimated that about 175 voting machines are in use throughout the state.