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Why Audits Are Necessary...and Other Testimony from Experts

By Ion Sancho, Supervisor of Elections, Leon County, Florida

The following testimony was submitted to the Elections Subcommittee of the Committee on House Administration on March 20, 2007.

In my testimony today I will focus on the problems Florida has encountered over the past six years and how audits, or more accurately, the lack of audits, have contributed to the current crisis in confidence Floridians have in their electoral system.

What are audits? One dictionary definition refers to an official examination and verification of accounts and records. Merriam-Webster includes "a methodical examination and review". Audits are essential to validate the accuracy truth of a whole range of activities, in private as well as public entities and financial institutions. The financial transactions of every branch of government are subject to audits. It is these audits which verify the correctness and accuracy of the actions taken by the organization and without a complex overlay of audits, whole sections of our economy and government could be open to attack and criticism as to the validity or propriety of policy and actions, unless confirmed through the process of auditing. But we don't require audits of votes.

Which leads me directly to Florida and the 2000 elections. In Florida, audits for any election are not required. The word 'audit' is mentioned only six times in our election code, and before last year, the State of Florida, the Division of Elections had never conducted an audit of any election in history! The closest thing to an audit in Florida law was our pre-2000 recount provisions, in Chapter 102, which depending upon the closeness of the contest could mean that every ballot had to be manually examined.

Recounts are generally rare events. In my almost 20 year career, I have overseen four recounts and only one of these��the Presidential election of 2000��involved a Federal race, and that recount, the only audit we could use was terminated by the U.S. Supreme court. The embarrassment suffered by Floridians, including election officials, arising from that unfortunate event, forced our Legislature to act.

The Governor ordered a bi-partisan task force, which held hearings across the State and produced 35 excellent recommendations��including audits. But audits, recounts, voter intent all were discarded in 2001 and substituted our current statutory framework which abolished complete manual recounts and thus, the only complete and real audit that could be done to determine the accuracy of our elections in a close election contest.

If the 2008 election in Florida were to end up in a statistical tie, less than 1% of the ballots would be examined. Why? Because in Florida it is presumed that the voting machines are always 100% accurate��thus in a recount, only ballots not read by a voting machine��overvotes and undervotes��would be examined. In Leon County this past November, approximately 500 ballots out of over 92,000 cast would be manually examined in a recount��only because these ballots could not be read by any machine.

Ladies and gentlemen of this committee, let me repeat this��if I were sample or audit a portion of my county's machine read ballots to audit or recount them, I could be removed from public office. Our laws in Florida are preposterous.

Despite what our policy-makes believe, election officials must routinely perform audits if we are to confirm the accuracy of the election. The pre- and post-election tests that we do to confirm our machines can count correctly are no substitute for a real audit of a portion of the voters ballots cast in an election. I leave it to the statisticians to determine what is the proper audit percentage to achieve an acceptable confidence level, but common sense and my own training convinces me that a tiered approach to auditing elections, in which more votes are audited the narrower the margin of victory, is reasonable.Opponents to mandatory audits may cite increased costs and a lack of time as reasons against mandating audits. All I can tell the critics is look at Florida. Today, the lack of trust in our election procedures, the lack of trust in our election administration is too high a price to pay.

In 2005 I put my professional career on the line by allowing independent security tests on our county's voting machines. I was shocked by our findings, which can be seen on the documentary film "Hacking Democracy". Those tests revealed that someone with insider access could alter the outcome of an election and not be detected using traditional canvassing procedures. Other panelists will address the serious security concerns by the current generation of voting systems, but my own experience confirms that only post-election audits of every voters' vote can ensure the integrity of the American voting process.

In closing I urge this body to amend the Help America Vote Act to require mandatory random manual post-elections audits. Our citizens deserve no less.

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