The Importance of Recounts

The images from 2000 are burned into our collective memory. Election officials peering through magnifying glasses to examine hanging and pregnant chads. At a recent Congressional hearing these images were projected on a screen with the intent of muddying the debate over the growing demand for transparent, auditable, and verifiable voting systems. But when I see those pictures, I see democracy at its best: election officials going the extra mile to determine the intent of every voter. Recounts are essential to ensure a sound, healthy democracy and with the increasing dependence on software to count votes, the imperative to verify election results is even stronger.

Since recounts invariably take place in the overcharged political climate of a hotly contested campaign, recounts are most often marred by real or perceived manipulation. Many states have recognized that mandatory random audits can serve to alleviate much of the concern about electronic voting machines and de-politicize what should be a routine aspect of administering elections.

The dean of election administrators, Bill Gardner, who has been New Hampshire’s Secretary of State for decades, considers recounts an important part of ensuring credibility of an election outcome. He makes the point that a successful election is when the losing candidate, and his or her supporters, are confident that the result was accurate. The capability of conducting a transparent hand recount of paper ballots in public with the media and all interested parties watching is critical to achieving that goal.

Sadly, too many election officials are more concerned about avoiding controversy than in confirming the accuracy of electronic voting tallies. For them, purely electronic voting systems are a godsend. One voting equipment manufacturer actually boasts in their advertisements that using their machines would mean, “no more recounts