Re: Mandatory vote audit law language: A discussion thread-- choosing precincts at random for audit

From: Jerry Lobdill <lobdillj_at_charter_dot_net>
Date: Wed Jul 12 2006 - 12:49:12 CDT

Here's the way I see it at the moment: Candidates and their
campaigns probably have better information than anyone else about
potential fraud in an election. Would it not be fair to allow each
candidate to select a precinct for mandatory audit in each county for
which he/she is a candidate? Such selected precincts might be audited
for every race on the ballot. Then, additionally, a random audit of N
precincts using the hypergeometric function for, say, 95% probability
of finding one irregular precinct in a total population that includes
all precincts with more than X votes, less those precincts already
selected by candidates would be conducted.

Such a scheme assumes that those precincts with more than X votes
that have not been targeted by candidates' selections would all have
equal probability of being irregular, and therefore the
hypergeometric function would be appropriate for that population.

I have not specified X because I don't have an analysis or a
reasonable method of setting that value at the moment. But clearly,
precincts that are not populated or that have fewer than some minimum
number of votes are less likely to be corrupted than larger precincts.

My concept could have all mandatory audits done at once. There is no
obvious reason why there needs to be a sequence for those chosen
randomly and those chosen by candidates. Any candidate or her
designee (probably her County Party Chair) who elected not to specify
a precinct for audit would have to be satisfied with the random audit.

The results of the mandatory audit should be public information,
available immediately after the audit.

I think this process would be fair to everyone and would maximize the
probability of detecting irregularity.

...Then there's the problem of what triggers a full recount. I want a
rule that is not arbitrary here. I want a rule that has some good
reasoning behind it if the audit is not considered sufficient cause.
For example, "If there is one irregularity then a full manual
recount will be conducted" is defensible, but one that says, "A full
manual recount shall not be required if the number of irregular votes
for a candidate is less than (whatever)" is not defensible IMO.



At 11:51 AM 7/12/2006, you wrote:
>Of course, it would be silly to use subjective information about fraud
>in certain precincts to wait the random audit. What there should be
>is a random audit followed by a targeted audit for certain precincts
>that show evidence of non-normal activity (and to be fair,
>representatives from parties could choose them in equal amounts). -Joe
>On 7/9/06, Jerry Lobdill <> wrote:
>> From the discussion list:
>> Stephanie,
>> Thanks for broaching this subject. Your story and your concerns are an
>>illustration of why a law should be careful not to use such language as
>>"chosen at random". Some of the worst "deciders" about randomness are
>>lawyers and election administration officials. :-)
>> As a scientist who designed or analyzed simulators that required the
>>generation of time series with specified statistical characteristics that
>>simulate data series originating in natural processes and being processed
>>through various signal processing systems, I have spent many an hour
>>studying and arguing the merits of various simulation schemes. Even experts
>>in the business of building such equipment frequently make mistakes or
>>become deluded and go down a primrose path.
>> The term, "uniformly distributed", as you know, is a mathematical term
>>that refers to the probability density function that describes a population
>>of samples of a given process. The probability density function (a plot of
>>"value" of a sample vs the frequency of occurrence of that value in the
>>population) is flat; i.e., the frequency of occurrence is constant
>>regardless of the value.
>> For example, suppose that we have a box of marbles of identical size. There
>>are, say, five colors of marbles, and 50 of each color. For this simple case
>>there is a total population of 250 marbles, and the frequency of occurrence
>>of each color is 1/5. The population is uniformly distributed. Suppose I put
>>these marbles into a bingo drum that outputs one marble "at random" with
>>every rotation. Is this really an effective randomizer? We can test that
>>hypothesis to any desired confidence level by conducting a "sampling with
>>replacement" experiment.
>> But the question is, does this model apply to the problem of detecting
>>corrupted precincts in an election? What if the probability of corruption is
>>not constant over all precincts? Then no matter what method we devise to
>>ensure that our selection process doesn't favor any precinct or group of
>>precincts, we are assuming a characteristic of the population of precincts
>>that doesn't exist in our situation. That is, we are assuming that no
>>precinct is more likely to be corrupted than any other. This assumption may
>>ignore advance knowledge that we might have about an election and the county
>>whose precincts comprise our population.
>> What is our goal? Is it to be "fair", or is it to detect compromise?
>> Jerry
>> Stephanie wrote:
>>What does "random" mean???
>>Posted by: "Stephanie Frank Singer" sleepy_sfs
>>Sun Jul 9, 2006 5:56 am (PST)
>> Here's a concern I have and don't know what to do with:
>> How do governing bodies implement "randomness"? We talk of "routine random
>>audit", but how, in fact, would the precincts be chosen? My tentative answer
>>(please send more ideas!) is that the precincts should be selected by the
>>same physical mechanism used to select lottery winners.
>> We need to protect against enforcers who would protect misdeeds by making
>>sure that suspect precincts are *not* chosen for audit.
>> This is not a merely theoretical concern. I went with the Committee of
>>Seventy (a local election watchdog organization) to test Philadelphia
>>election machines before the 2005 primary. Because the city has about 2000
>>machines, and there were maybe 10 of us on the team, we couldn't hope to
>>test all of them. The person in charge of the Committee of Seventy effort, a
>>lawyer, had chosen the machines to test in what he considered a random
>>fashion. However, his method was flawed. So flawed, in fact, that there were
>>over 1000 of the 2000 machines that were guaranteed not to be on his list!!!
>> ((OK, here are the details: Philly is divided into 66 "wards", each of
>>which has between 20 and 30 precincts. Each precinct has (at least) two
>>voting machines. This fellow had a list of wards (Ward 1 through Ward 66)
>>and had written opposite each ward a number between 1 and 20. So he had
>>chosen one precinct in each ward. He sent this list of precincts to someone
>>in charge of the voting machine warehouse. When we got to the warehouse, the
>>technicians had open one machine from each of these precincts. But remember,
>>each precincts has at least two machines! So the technicians got to choose
>>which machine to open. Ask Marian Vos Savant if you don't believe me: this
>>really screws up the works. Plus, the technicians had advance knowledge of
>>which machines would be inspected, so any nefarious ones among them would
>>have a chance to cover any exposed tracks.))
>> By the way, the word "random" has two related but different meanings. One
>>is the definition you would find in, say, a graduate mathematics text book.
>>The other is a collective general public understanding that corresponds to
>>what mathematicians would call "random, and uniformly distributed." Here's
>>an example. Suppose I have a trick coin, weighted so that, on average, it
>>will land on its head 99 times out of 100. Can I use that coin to choose
>>between two precincts under the law? According to the standard mathematical
>>definition, the results of that coin toss are in fact "random", since there
>>is no way to predict when the unlikely event of "tails" will occur. However,
>>surely we don't want that kind of mechanism for precinct selection -- if we
>>had two precincts to choose from, we would want to use a fair coin. (Of
>>course, we're talking about picking, say, 200 out of 10,000 precincts, not
>>one out of two. But I wanted to distill the idea into its simplest form.)
>> Cheers from one of your resident mathematicians, Stephanie
>>OVC-discuss mailing list
>Joseph Lorenzo Hall
>PhD Student, UC Berkeley, School of Information

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Received on Mon Jul 31 23:17:03 2006

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