Ranked Voting and Questions About Election Integrity
The first module should simply create an output file that is in a non-proprietary and easily read format such as a text file, that is an accurate record of how each voter marked his or her ballot. Some vendors' systems perform some normalization of ballot data such as closing up skipped rankings or inserting generic codes for overvotes rather than showing exactly which two candidates received the same ranking, and while not ideal, since they can still be subjected to the preferred ballot-level manual audit procedure described below, they do not impair election audit integrity. The audit procedure used by San Francisco simply assures that the number of choices for each candidate at each ranking match the machine record. This audit method is useful for detecting machine errors, but is not adequate for detecting extremely sophisticated fraud (since whether a 2nd choice for candidate D appears on a ballot that ranks candidates A or C first can matter). In short, simply checking precinct-level vote totals, or totals for each ranking may have some value, but are not a comprehensive auditing procedure for ranked ballots.
The preferred audit procedure which can detect both machine error and sophisticated fraud involves selecting a random sample of voting machines and doing a manual comparison of the paper ballots read by that machine with the machine record, to assure that the machines are properly recording the voters' marks. This is more definitive than traditional audits, in that a group seeking to commit fraud would need to have the ability to alter or substitute both paper ballots and the machine record. A traditional vote-for-one election audit may not detect fraud that successfully substitutes a portion of the paper ballots (traditional ballot box stuffing). These audited ranked-ballot files should then be made publicly available (as done in instant runoff voting elections in San Francisco and Burlington by posting them on the Internet).
The second module of the election system performs the algorithm for tallying the election (such as eliminating bottom candidates and transferring votes to next choices, etc.) The goal here is to assure that this tally can be done by both the vendor's system and by independent software or using a standard spreadsheet or database program to confirm the tally. Beyond merely auditing the tally, this allows any person who wishes, to completely re-do the tally from scratch, using any software of their choosing, or even by printing out the ballot rankings and sorting them by hand, accomplishing a complete recount. The reliability of any such recount/re-tally is, of course, dependent on the manual audit of the actual optical scan ballots, showing that the machine record of ballot rankings is correct. Double-checking the IRV tallies using independent software is regularly done for San Francisco and Burlington elections.
While the audit procedures are necessarily different than with vote-for-one elections, there is no conflict between supporting election integrity and the use of ranked voting methods. The founder of the election integrity movement in Ireland that blocked the adoption of DRE voting equipment in Ireland, for example, is also an ardent supporter of ranked voting (read her statement here). As she points out, IRV elections can be run independently of software as indeed they are in Ireland
Proposed "best practices" for auditing a ranked-ballot election
Because ranked voting elections on optical scan equipment involve two independent steps – capturing rankings and performing the ranked voting tally – it is possible, and in fact preferable, to manually audit the election using the stored rankings rather than precinct-summable vote totals. We will give a brief explanation of how this can be done, and we’ll provide a more detailed example in the appendix of this paper.
Let’s suppose you are trying to manually audit the ranked voting results from a precinct with 1,000 votes cast, and you have a printout of the 1,000 electronic records of the rankings from that precinct. You simply pick up the first ballot in your stack, find an electronic record that corresponds to that ballot, and put a check mark next to the ranking. For example, if the machine reports that 73 ballots ranked the candidates in order B, D, A, C, then after examining the paper ballots there should be 73 check marks next to that ranking combination on the audit form. Go through all your ballots, and if you’ve got one check mark next to every ranking and you don’t have any extra ballots, you’ve verified the storage of the rankings. If there is a discrepancy and you didn’t make an error during the audit, the voting equipment failed to store the rankings correctly. [More details appear in the appendix, along with an explanation of how to audit the application of the ranked voting tallying method to those records.]
The machine record of rankings should be made publicly available, ideally through Internet posting, both prior to and following the audit, along with instructions for how to conduct a tally using independent software, or manual procedures. The ability of opposing campaigns, the press, and any one else who wishes, to perform their own independent tallies using manually audited ballot records creates confidence in the results.
An even higher level of election integrity and transparency can be achieved following the example of the Election Transparency Project of Humboldt County (CA). As part of their audit procedure they re-scanned all ballots using commercial off-the-shelf scanners, and used software to detect voter marks on each ballot. This allows for the potential of having any "problem" ballots displayed on a screen for election judges to rule on voter intent (as humans can distinguish stray marks, etc. more effectively than computers). The Humboldt County Election Transparency Project proved its value in its first use, discovering a flaw in the Premier GEMS software used in conjunction with the county's Premier voting machines that resulted in the failure to include 197 ballots in the election results. This same model of pixel scanning of ballots will be typical in the next generation of optical scan voting machines, which will further enhance security and the ease of conducting ranked-ballot elections.