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CHAD ENNIS: Post-Election Audits Should Be The Norm For Every State. Here’s Why

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Chad Ennis Contributor
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I may be dating myself, but the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

We can get much more than an ounce’s worth of prevention by engaging in post-election process audits. It is much easier to fix process problems early before they blow up and become problems that require litigation and other nasty fixes. Ahead of the 2024 election, state legislatures should require full process audits to ensure transparency and build trust in our elections.

I was the lead auditor responsible for developing and leading the first round of Texas process audits looking at the 2020 General Election. The purpose of the audit program was not to unearth fraud, but to provide quality assurance to voters by verifying that election laws and procedures were being followed. (RELATED: MARSHAL TRIGG: Here’s How To Actually Stop Election Fraud)

We audited four counties — which together have roughly the same population as North Carolina. No county was mistake free (and it would be shocking if they were) but two counties did rather well and two did not. We found many problems that were easily correctable and the solutions would meaningfully increase the accuracy of elections and improve the voting experience.

Common sense says that post-election performance reviews are important and, indeed, a whopping 86% of Americans think every election office should routinely undergo a full performance review and audit. In our audit of the 2020 election, we found that Harris County, the nation’s third largest county and home to Houston, could not show proper chain of custody for almost 185,000 ballots.

Several states have begun audit programs. Texas has gone through a round of audits and recently released a new report for their second round. Mississippi has started a program and will begin audits soon, while other states are also joining in.

Post-election audits come in many flavors. Most people do not initially think about process audits.

Instead, they think of the traditional ballot audits that verify ballot counting was done correctly. This can be done by rerunning a subset of ballots back through the tabulators, or even better, by performing a limited hand recount of certain races and ballots to ensure the accuracy of results.

Most states do this in some fashion whether through risk-limiting audits, or a straight count of a fixed number of ballots.

Process audits go further and look deeper to ensure that election officials are following the rules. This requires a deep dive into all election records. If election workers are doing their jobs — and most are — then the election records will show it.

Process audits can reveal a great deal about how elections function. In Texas, we focused on several key areas.

Initially, we wanted to make sure that the books balanced meaning that we wanted to ensure that the number of ballots counted matched the number of people that showed up. We found several discrepancies here. In one particularly alarming case, we discovered that Dallas County did not count an entire polling location!

No less alarming, in Harris County we found 34 polling locations where the number of voters logged as checking in to vote by the pollbook differed from the audit log reflecting number of ballots tallied.

The security of voting equipment is always a paramount concern, and process audits can help ensure that officials are properly safeguarding it. For an individual piece of equipment there should be records showing every event in the lifecycle of the machine.

We reviewed when equipment was purchased, programmed, tested and sealed, when those seals were removed, and when the machine was taken out of service. From this timeline we can identify security vulnerabilities and plug holes.

There are many more things that can be reviewed in a process audit. An audit can check that the signatures on mail ballots were verified consistently and in accordance with state laws and best practices. Depending on state law, mail ballot records can be reviewed for indications of ballot trafficking.

Provisional ballots (cast as a placeholder when the voter’s eligibility is in question) are also a place where robust procedural audits can help. Provisional ballot handling is complicated.

Reviewing records can reveal that voters were required to vote provisionally when they should have been given a regular ballot. It can also reveal that a voter received a regular ballot when they should have been required to vote a provisional ballot.

Our review of Texas records showed that provisional ballot handling is a place where election officials need to be much more careful with their record keeping.

Post-election process audits are the best way to make sure that elections officials are following proper procedure. Our audits in Texas showed many lapses in good election process that the election officials learned from and have worked to correct.

That’s why audits of this nature should be required in every state.

Chad Ennis is the Vice President of Honest Elections Project.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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