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

From: Ron Crane <voting_at_lastland_dot_net>
Date: Thu Jul 13 2006 - 21:20:20 CDT
The goal should be to detect fraud. Sometimes it's best detected by candidate-directed audits, as you have advocated (e.g., when a candidate has good information about fraud and is willing to fight). And sometimes it's best detected by random audits (e.g., when a candidate does not know the conditions in the jurisdiction or does not want to fight). Therefore elections laws should provide for both.


Jerry Lobdill wrote:
From the discussion list:

But the question is, does this model [equibprobable sampling of precincts] 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? 


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
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,

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Received on Mon Jul 31 23:17:04 2006

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