The Case for Hand-Counted Paper Ballots


by Richard Hayes Phillips, Ph.D.

February 21, 2007

I remain an advocate of paper ballots, counted by hand, at the precinct level, in full public view, on Election Night, no matter how long it takes. Here is an outline of my reasons:

1. Without PAPER BALLOTS, no election results can be verified by auditors.
“Voter-verified paper trails” do not suffice, because:

(a) not all voters will take the extra time to “verify” each and every vote for a multitude of offices and initiatives;

(b) there is no way to ensure that the vote count reported by the machine actually matches the “paper trail” without looking at the paper record;

(c) contentious court cases will be required in order to look at the paper record during the brief time period when an election can be challenged; therefore

(d) the unverified machine count will likely become official; and

(e) auditing the poll books and voter signature books can only verify the accuracy of the total number of ballots cast, and cannot detect alteration of the vote count for individual candidates.

2. The ballots must be COUNTED BY HAND.

We have examined tens of thousands of ballots from the 2004 general election in Ohio, and have found large discrepancies, errors, and outright fraud that were not detected by the machine counts, including:

(a) hundreds of consecutive ballots cast for the same presidential candidate;

(b) inexplicable voting patterns, such as half of the gay marriage supporters voting for Bush;

(c) outright alteration, such as marks for certain candidates covered with white stickers;

(d) “duplicate” ballots without original “voided” ballots to match them;

(e) unused ballots missing or destroyed;

(f) ballots cast in the wrong precinct, with a different ballot rotation;

(g) far more, or far fewer, voted ballots than the official number of ballots cast;

(h) thousands of “absentee” ballots identified in the same handwriting, with the same writing implement;

(i) absolutely blank ballots substituted for ballots cast by voters;

(j) thousands of ballots punched in advance for third-party candidates, causing voters to spoil their own ballots by casting overvotes, found almost exclusively in heavily Democratic inner-city precincts.

3. The ballots must be counted AT THE PRECINCT LEVEL, because:

(a) hand counting of paper ballots is not manageable at the county level;

(b) the counting takes place before “chain of custody” issues have arisen;

(c) all ballots will be counted in the correct precincts.

4. The ballots must be counted IN FULL PUBLIC VIEW, because:

(a) nothing else will restore public confidence in the veracity of the vote count;

(b) public monitoring of the actual counting of ballots is an exciting opportunity for citizens to engage in participatory democracy; and

(c) if observers are limited to persons residing in the precinct being counted, contentious challenges from partisan lawyers can be averted.

5. The ballots must be counted ON ELECTION NIGHT, NO MATTER HOW LONG IT TAKES, because:

(a) again, the counting takes place before “chain of custody” issues have arisen;

(b) the voters have already endured a lengthy campaign, and can wait a while for the unofficial results;

(c) the right of voters to have their votes counted correctly, the first time, trumps the desire of election workers to go home early; and

(d) if election workers are tired after a long day, a new team can be brought in to count the ballots.