For Candidates and Campaign Leaders

Do you have concerns about the accuracy of the election results?

You’re in the right place if:

  • You were a candidate in the 2018 general election
  • You’re part of the leadership of a campaign, or
  • You were involved in an initiative on the ballot

We can no longer take election results at face value. Nearly all votes in the U.S. are counted by computerized election systems that are vulnerable to both error and manipulation that can alter vote counts.

AUDIT USA is working to make elections transparent, trackable, and publicly verified. We’re here to help you verify the official election results.

Fortunately, several of the most commonly used electronic voting systems in the nation have a security feature that can be used to verify that vote totals are correct – and to call official election results into question when necessary.

This feature is built into the newer generation of paper ballot election systems, known as digital scan systems. Digital scan systems are an update to the old technology known as “optical scan,” although many people confuse the two. Digital scan systems are in use in at least one location in nearly every state, and are used statewide in several states. The security feature we want you to know about is called “digital ballot images.”

This page will provide you with basic information about what digital ballot images are, why they’re important, and how you may be able to use them to examine the results of your election by conducting a Ballot Image Audit (BIA).

We’ll also give you a way to get detailed information about how to determine whether or not it makes sense for you to pursue this method of post-election inquiry, given the specifics of your race.

Digital Scan Election Systems: A Brief Overview

Digital scan election systems, as we mentioned above, are used to count paper ballots. They can be used for ballots voted at the precinct, at early voting centers, or by mail. Some election jurisdictions use the same system for all three of these types of voting, while others have multiple systems in use.

Unlike the older optical scan systems which count the votes marked on the paper ballots, digital scanners take a digital image of each ballot and count the votes on the image, not on the paper ballot. Some of these systems have a built-in ink jet feature that stamps an identifying number onto the ballot and a number onto the image, so the images can later be paired with the corresponding ballots to verify authenticity. Neither these numbers nor the images themselves identify the voter, so this system does not compromise the right to a secret ballot.

Why are ballot images important?

In recent history, candidates and voting rights advocates have often sought access to paper ballots in order to perform hand counts to verify the official computer-generated totals. These requests are denied by most election officials, who generally cite concerns about the paper ballots being tampered with if they are handled by candidates or other members of the public.

The existence of digital ballot images addresses this concern, because multiple copies of the digital ballot files can be made and distributed to candidates, voting rights advocates, and the media without any possibility that granting this access to public records will result in damage to the paper ballots. Creating these copies is quite inexpensive. You should be able to obtain copies of all digital images and related materials for no more than $25 per county.

How Digital Ballot Images Can Be Used in Post-Election Audits

The Ballot Image Audit (BIA) is a new method of public verification of elections that has been made possible by the advent of digital scan election systems. This protocol is currently in beta stage, as it has not yet been used to verify or dispute official election results. Small pilot projects and research projects have been undertaken to develop the BIA process.

Interested parties can obtain digital ballot images and essential related records from local election offices through public records requests or through the discovery process if a court action has been filed.

The ballot images can be displayed one at a time and the votes on those images counted quickly. A truly random sample of the ballot images can be counted as a quick check on the veracity of the election results, with the sample size increasing, if necessary, to refine the audit.

If the difference between the official vote count and the findings of the initial BIA is significant, election officials or the courts should then grant access to the paper ballots for comparison. This comparison with the original paper ballots is essential to confirm that the ballot images provided by the county are the exact images from the election and that neither set of data has been subjected to tampering.

Does Your Election Cry Out for a Ballot Image Audit (BIA)?

A number of factors must be in place for a BIA to be both possible and recommended:

If other systems were also in use, you will not be able to conduct a full audit, but your findings may still be extremely useful if an election contest, challenge, or recount is sought or conducted.

While it’s technically possible for an election to be manipulated in a way that would produce results with a margin of victory of over 5%, we do not recommend you conduct a ballot image audit when the spread is greater than 5%.

An exception to this general rule would be cases where there is blatant evidence contradicting the announced vote totals, such as multiple poll tapes with totals that do not match the official vote totals.

It is the position of AUDIT USA that all elections should be transparent, trackable, and publicly verified. Until that becomes achievable across the board, we recommend that efforts to verify elections be focused on the races where red flags (warning signs) are present.

If a ballot image audit reveals substantially different vote totals from the announced results, an election challenge, contest, or recount may be your next step.

Before investing your resources in a BIA, we recommend you review the laws and policies that will determine whether or not such a challenge, contest, or recount will be within reach.

What to do if a BIA your election wasn’t conducted on a digital scan voting system, and the results seem suspect?

Depending upon the election system used, there may or may not be a way to assess the accuracy of the vote count. We recommend you contact an election integrity group in your state for help, or the election problem hotline at http://866ourvote.org

See the list of state groups at the bottom of this page.

Next Steps:

If after reading the information on this page you’d like to consider performing a Ballot Image Audit, enter your information below. We’ll send you our BIA Guide for Candidates and Campaigns, which includes:

  • A list of “red flags” that signal the need to investigate the accuracy of official election results
  • Where to find the information you’ll need to determine whether your race meets the criteria described above for conducting a BIA
  • A template public records request you can use to obtain the materials needed for a BIA
  • Detailed instructions about how to conduct a BIA, including equipment needed and how to estimate the number of people and amount of time needed based on your individual situation
  • How to get more help from AUDIT USA

There's no charge for our Ballot Image Audit Guide for Candidates and Campaigns. Simply enter your information below to subscribe to our email list and receive the Guide by email. (We send subscribers occasional announcements and calls to action. You can unsubscribe at any time.)

Ballot Image Audit Guide for Candidates and Campaign Leaders cover image

State Groups

State groups that may be able to help you:

Arizona:
AUDIT USA
We grew out of AUDIT AZ and still take on some projects in Arizona

California:
Citizens’ Oversight Projects
Voting Rights Task Force
Protect CA Ballots

Georgia:

Coalition for Good Governance

Michigan:
Michigan Election Reform Alliance (MERA)

Wisconsin:
Wisconsin Election Integrity

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