January 25, 2022

Ranked-Choice Voting: A Conflict

 What the well-intentioned proponents of ranked-choice voting overlook is that it conflicts with a much more urgent and critical need for manual auditing to counter the threats of hacking, rigging, and the perception that the 2020 election was stolen. The complexity of ranked-choice voting would add to the already formidable resistance to hand-counted audits. 

A wealth of resources has been directed at ranked-choice voting. “The head of Voter Choice Massachusetts, Mac D’Alessandro, told The Intercept that his organization is receiving more than $1 million in matching funds from Unite America” in 2019. Unite America is “a once obscure political organization that raised its profile earlier this year [2019] when Kathryn Murdoch became its co-chair and largest donor; she’s a daughter-in-law of Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch.” https://theintercept.com/2019/10/07/murdoch-pennsylvania-gerrymandering-lobbyists/?fbclid=IwAR0qCfiNuMklRlawN5uKBAsEVsQhmZSEVXhiDfoFkG1f-tfGyNCVxJaKjJA

I’m not suggesting there is anything sinister in the injection of Murdoch money, apart from the fact that megadonors have way too much influence over our elections and everything else. I don't doubt that Kathryn Murdoch genuinely wanted to do good on the election front and wonder whether Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig helped convince her that ranked-choice voting is a top priority. 

I was a fan of Lessig for years; went to a couple of his New Hampshire rallies for campaign finance reform. He’s a brilliant man with an extraordinary passion for election reform. Not sure why he switched his focus from campaign finance reform to ranked-choice voting. Had he asked leading election integrity advocates, e.g., Verified Voting, for suggestions as to what is needed most, advocacy for mandatory manual audits would have come out ahead of ranked-choice voting. 

I’m not questioning anyone’s motives, but voters deserve to know all about the funding of ranked-choice voting campaigns.

I urge the advocates for RCV to read Jonathan Simon’s recent article, "The Real Steal: Electoral Forensics and the 2020 Election," as well as his book CODE RED: Computerized Elections and the War on American Democracy: Election 2020 Edition. Everyone should watch KILL CHAIN: The Cyber War on American’s Elections, featuring Harri Hursti. I hope RCV proponents will read my plea for hand-counted audits and consider supporting that cause.

BTW, there are at least two other alternatives to the current system of plurality voting that are audit-friendly. Subsequent runoff elections to reach a majority of votes for the winning candidates are held in a number of states and European nations, including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and France. And there’s Approval Voting https://www.electionscience.org/library/approval-voting/.

See also Brad Friedman: "Why Ranked Choice Voting Is a Terrible Idea" at https://bradblog.com/?p=12608: "it's very difficult to count, virtually impossible for the public to oversee, requires central tabulation and computers to pull off, and candidates and voters in many places where it's been tried in the past have found that it's impossible to understand why some candidates won and others lost."

Little-known fact about ranked-choice voting: The RCV component of state and federal races and state party primaries will always have to be tabulated by the Secretary of State or some other state authority on their RCV-programmed central scanner. In NH, that would hold for RCV municipal elections also until local jurisdictions purchase new, RCV-capable machines, as I understand it. Even then, how would the votes for, say, Nashua Aldermen-at-Large be tabulated? By the SoS? Or maybe the city clerk?

How do we audit the SoS's results? While auditing a sample of local precincts would be necessary, it wouldn’t be sufficient without also auditing the tabulation of the ranked choices by the SoS’s scanner. I’ve started watching the video on RCV auditing by the RCV Resource Center. Every legislator who has a vote on RCV should watch at least a portion of the video to see what the challenges are. They look daunting, to say the least, especially from the perspective of a voter who wants to see hand-counted audits, as recommended by election security experts.

RCV's Achilles’ heel is the requirement for *instant* runoffs, which necessitates central tabulation and computerization to reallocate losing candidates’ votes. Traditional runoffs, on the other hand, are tabulated just like any other election. Candidates with the lowest vote totals are simply eliminated after a round; their votes are not reallocated to surviving candidates. RCV advocates see its strength in exactly this capability to rank candidates. I do understand the appeal, but it comes at the unacceptable cost of local oversight, transparency, and auditability.

Barbara Glassman

Nashua, NH

January 13, 2022

In New Hampshire: A plea for hand-counted audits

In opposition to SB 366-FN re audits 

January 11, 2022

To the Honorable Members of the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee:

I write in opposition to SB 366-FN and ask Ms. Melillo to please add this to the legislative record. 


As I have written to Senator Gray in the past, I am opposed to the lack of transparency and public oversight and increased reliance on hackable, riggable computerized election machinery that using scanners and ballot images for audits embodies.

No true election security expert endorses using a scanner to perform an audit, even if it's a new make or model. Manual/hand-counted post-election audits have been recommended since 2009 by both the Secretary of State's own Electronic Ballot Counting Device Advisory Committee [formerly at http://sos.nh.gov/ballotcountdev.aspx] and the national League of Women Voters [https://sites.google.com/a/leagueofwomenvoters.org/clearinghouse/rep/election-administration/lwvus-report-on-election-auditing], as well as the experts who testified before the Kobach commission: Andrew Appel, Harri Hursti, and Ron Rivest. [https://youtu.be/XkPJbbKPJ_w]

Verified Voting, the premier body of election experts, is unequivocal: "Audits require human examination of voter-marked paper ballots... Audits cannot rely on scanned images or machine interpretations of the ballots to accurately reflect voter intent" (p. 7, Principles and Best Practices for… Audits). [P. 7, https://verifiedvoting.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Principles-and-Best-Practices-For-Post-Eleciton-Tabulation-Audits.pdf

Let us stop to ask, Why do audits in the first place? It's because election security experts know there are too many undetectable vulnerabilities with computerized voting, and manual audits of hand-marked paper ballots are our best defense. So why are we turning to computerized scanners and digital images when the experts say we should be doing hand-counted audits of the paper ballots?

The convenience of letting a machine do the work of auditing with digital images is very seductive. Proponents will even say you can't trust the people doing hand counts. New Hampshire has a long, proud tradition of meticulous manual recounts. The safeguards built into those recounts can be utilized in audits and even strengthened to allow for maximum transparency and public oversight.

Secretary Gardner chose not to follow the advice of his own hand-picked experts. With his departure, we now have the freedom to reassess.

If that does not happen, then here are concerns about the bill as written:

4."I.  The secretary of state shall randomly select one to 3 percent of AccuVote devices, but not less than 4 such devices, to be used at the 2022 state general election to be audited. … The selection of devices to be audited shall be non-public and made at least 2 weeks prior to the general election, after the AccuVote memory cards have been programed [sic]."  

The whole point of random audits is to make it impossible for anyone to know ahead of time which machines will be selected. Allowing the secretary of state to choose the machines in advance negates the protective effect of random selection. It is not random selection.

4. "VI.  A random sample of not less than 5 percent of the ballots scanned shall be selected and the images of the ballots selected shall be compared with the voters' choices recorded for the ballot."

So this bill allows as little as one percent of the AccuVote machines, but not less than four, to be audited, and then as little as 5 percent of the ballots from those machines to be selected for comparison with "the voters' choices recorded for the ballot." Does this refer to the hand-marked paper ballots? If my husband, an engineer, is not mistaken, that works out to a rate of 0.05 percent of the AccuVote ballots, or 5 in 10,000 paper ballots that will be compared with the corresponding ballot images to try to establish that the ballot images are accurate copies of the hand-marked ballots. Does anyone see that as sufficient to inspire confidence? In contrast, Massachusetts conducts hand-counted audits of the paper ballots in 3 percent of all precincts when the president is on the ballot.

Here's what Professors Andrew Appel and Philip Stark have to say about this:

"Audit the Digital Images?

"Some vendors are promoting systems that create digital images of ballots. These vendors claim that the images make RLAs easier to perform because fewer (or no) paper ballots need to be inspected. That is incorrect: if a risk-limiting audit relies on images of ballots, it must check that the error in making the images from the voter-verified paper ballots plus the error the system made interpreting those images to make cast-vote records is not large enough to cause the electoral outcome to be wrong. It is a mathematical fact that this requires examining at least as many physical ballots as an audit that compares CVRs to a human reading of the paper ballots, without relying on the digital images." [P. 537, https://georgetownlawtechreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/4.2-p523-541-Appel-Stark.pdf

In other words, an audit that relies on digital images of ballots requires examining at least as many corresponding paper ballots as a hand-counted audit of the paper ballots alone.

Professor J. Alex Halderman's research demonstrates the vulnerability of auditing digital images: 

"Abstract. As paper ballots and post-election audits gain increased adoption in the United States, election technology vendors are offering products that allow jurisdictions to review ballot images—digital scans produced by optical-scan voting machines—in their post-election audit procedures. Jurisdictions including the state of Maryland rely on such image audits as an alternative to inspecting the physical paper ballots. We show that image audits can be reliably defeated by an attacker who can run malicious code on the voting machines or election management system...." [https://jhalderm.com/pub/papers/unclear-evoteid19.pdf]

I sincerely hope you will take this opportunity to reenvision the path forward.


Barbara Glassman

Nashua, NH