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Thursday, December 15, 2016

 8:54 AM 

Voting machine audits waived for municipalities that conducted hand recount


Local election officials in counties that didn't do a hand recount of their presidential ballots might have a little more work coming their way.

That's if they were selected by the Elections Commission as part of the traditional post-election audit of voting equipment to make sure machines are counting votes accurately. The commission had put that audit on hold as it prepared for the first-ever recount of the state's presidential votes.

With those nearly 3 million votes now recounted, commissioners decided Wednesday to resume the audits.

But on a 4-2 vote, the commission decided to exempt from the audit the municipalities where officials did the recount by hand.

In all, 107 reporting units within municipalities were randomly selected to be part of the audit. And 75 of them either did their recounts by hand and will be exempted from the audit or had already finished it.

That leaves 32 reporting units that will have to continue with the audit because they conducted their recounts using machines. Still, those municipalities will have until Jan. 31 to complete the audits so that they "can have a pleasant holiday" after all their work in the recount, said Commissioner Ann Jacobs.

The audit and recount differ in several ways.

The presidential recount only focused on the top of the ticket and is a more comprehensive review of results within the race, with officials needing to review ballots for voter intent and check poll books, for example. Forty-seven of the state's 72 counties did their recount by hand.

The audit is only about verifying that the equipment is accurately counting ballots, though officials are required to review the results in four races, including the presidential race. And while county officials had a choice on which method they'd use for their recounts, the audits are done entirely by hand.

The commission's action was a compromise between two positions: stopping the audit altogether this year or ensuring all municipalities that were selected would complete it.

Elections Commission staff was "torn" about the right approach, Elections Supervisor Ross Hein said, and wanted to see what the options commission would go with.

Commissioner Julie Glancey proposed the exemption, saying elections officials who did a hand recount went "above and beyond." But the commission, she said, has a responsibility to reassure those who believe the state's voting machines "can be hacked."

"We have a responsibility to make that perfectly clear, and we need to complete the audit," Glancey said. "We're not doing it for us, because everyone in this room knows the machines are fine. We're doing it for the skeptics in the world that think they're not."

Commission Chair Mark Thomsen and Commissioner Steve King voted against the exemption and preferred stopping the audits altogether.

King said the commission represents taxpayers who "would laugh at us" if they knew the state spent money on additional checks of election results following the recount, which took a $3.5 million payment from Jill Stein's campaign to get started.

Thomsen agreed, saying the commission needs to make "decisions that matter in the real world." And even after the audit, he said, they'll still "have the same skeptics that will think this audit is nonsense" and continue to insist the state's voting machines aren't reliable.

Jacobs, though, noted another reason to keep the audit going in areas that didn't do a hand recount. The Legislative Audit Bureau, she said, "came down very hard" on the now-defunct Government Accountability Board for significant delays in completing the audits in the past.

"There's no reason to stick our heads into the mouth of a tiger again," Jacobs said.


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