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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Sunday, December 10
 
The Ohio 15th Recount
The end-of-the semester crunch has kept me too busy to blog in the past week, but there have been a lot of developments. One of them has to do with the election for Ohio's 15th Congressional District, involving Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy and incumbent Republican Deborah Pryce. According to this report from the Columbus Dispatch, Pryce retained her lead of 1,055 after a recount of over 15,000 votes, in whicn no discrepancies were found. Final numbers are expected early this coming week, but it's now pretty clear that Rep. Pryce is the winner.

One of the reasons this contest is interesting is because it involves a recount with contemporaneous paper records generated by an electronic voting machine.The recount of votes in Ohio's 15th district was required under state law, because the margin of victory was less than 0.5%. As I've discussed here, Ohio has a law stating that the so-called "voter verified paper audit trail" (or VVPAT) is to be the "official ballot" in the event of a recount. Franklin County, in which most of the voters in Ohio's 15th live, uses an ES&S electronic voting system with a paper tape that prints the voters choices in "real time," as described here.

Under procedures set by the Secretary of State's office, described here by my colleague Steve Huefner,the recount process involves hand-recounting 3% of VVPAT records and comparing them to the summary of results. Franklin County election officials actually recounted about 10%, a larger sample than state law requires, in a process described here. There were reportedly about a dozen cases in which votes weren't readable on the paper tapes used for recounts for reasons such as paper jams. This is much better than occurred after Cuyahoga County's primary election with a Diebold VVPAT voting system, in which almost 10% of the paper ballots were compromised.

One of the things that allowed the recount to proceed relatively smoothly in Franklin County is that both sides were able to agree on ground rules, including those governing unreadable tapes. This also avoided legal machinations over Ohio's recount standards, the possibility of which I noted here and my colleague Ned Foley discussed here. The Dispatch reports that Kilroy's campaign has filed a lawsuit seeking the names of 2,600 voters who cast provisional ballots that weren't counted. But even if a large number of these votes wound up being counted, it's extremely unlikely that they could swing the race given Pryce's 1,055 vote lead.

Though I'm a longtime opponent of VVPAT requirements, I have to acknowledge that the recount in Franklin County appears to have gone pretty smoothly. Franklin County election officials deserve credit for this, as do the two campaigns for reaching agreement on ground rules. Whether the VVPAT will serve as an effective check on fraud and mistakes -- such as those which occurred in Sarasota County, Florida -- is another question. Among the unanswered questions are whether voters actually check the paper printouts and whether it's practical to routinely recount a sufficient number of printouts so as to ensure an adequate level of confidence in the result. But those are questions for another day.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University