PWC Board Concludes Human Error ‘Likely’ Before Certifying Results
Non-profit electoral process group praises electoral board for responding to public’s calls to conduct a partial audit of discrepancies before certifying election results
November 16, 2022 –- Election officials in Virginia’s Prince William County met to certify the results of the 2022 General Election after they conducted a hand-count of ballot counts in conflict with machine counts and concluded that human error was a “likely” cause rather than machine error.
The board’s decision to conduct a hand-count of the ballots in question followed a call for a review from the public, local and state officials, and Electoral Process Education Corporation (EPEC), a Virginia-based non-profit 501c (3) that provides election data analysis.
Although the PWC electoral board was not able to reconcile one outstanding difference between the poll-book count of votes cast and the machine scans in two precincts, it judged the differences were not likely coming from machine malfunctions.
While it is still problematic for poll books not to match the scanner tapes, it is a much more serious issue when the number of physical ballots in the accumulation bin and the scanner totals do not match.
EPEC’s recommendations based on its analysis of the election data include the following:
Standard processes should be updated to require verification that the number of ballots in the scanner collection bin match the scanner result report tape. If the numbers do not match, an on premises hand tabulation be performed by the election officers and the results recorded in the official public record.
EPEC also commended the PWC board of elections for ensuring transparency by confirming that the final counts of the physical ballots align with machine scan tallies before certifying the results.
At Least Two Precincts Showed Different Physical Ballot Count Compared to Scanner Counts
Non-profit electoral process group calls for a full audit of precincts with discrepancies before Commonwealth of Virginia certifies local and statewide election results.
November 14, 2022 — Electoral Process Education Corporation (EPEC), a non-profit 501c (3) that performs election data analysis, is urging Virginia’s public election officials to verify scanner machine ballot counts before certification of results in key precincts as a result of recent findings.
The recommendation comes after election officers, analysts and observers discovered discrepancies in the data reported to and provided by the Virginia Department of Elections (“ELECT”). The findings raise questions about the proper certification of the machines in question, and whether issues were addressed according to statewide election protocols.
In at least two precincts in Prince William County (PWC) the number of physical ballots cast and accumulated was different than the machine scanner’s tally of ballots, as reported by election officers. The numbers must align as part of the precinct’s tracking of total ballots cast at the voting location.
Although the number of ballots impacted was small, the repeated findings raise questions about the origin of the errors and whether the machines were operating correctly.
In Virginia’s VA-7 Congressional District Race, election officers observed differences in ballot counts of voters who were checked in with pollbooks compared to the actual number of ballots in the machines throughout the day. When the election officers went to close out the polling station, they discovered a ballot scanner with 27 more ballots represented in the electronic total than physical ballots present inside the machine’s collection bin. The scanner reported 531 ballots scanned and recorded, but only 504 physical ballots were in the collection bin underneath the scanner.
Election officers documented these issues with the General Registrar and Electoral Board and recorded the information in the official Statement of Results (SOR) and Chief’s notes. The officers proceeded to conduct a hand tabulation of the vote totals on the ballots in accordance with election procedures. They repeated this tabulation multiple times, with multiple officers witnessing the process. The results of the hand tabulation, as compared to the scanner totals, is as follows:
The Democrat candidate received 22 of the unexplained votes, a 7.86% difference compared to the physical ballot tally for the candidate. The Republican candidate received another 3 votes, a 1.34% difference over the physical ballot tally for the candidate. There were 2 write-in ballots.
In Virginia’s VA-10 Congressional District Race, elections officers also found a small difference between machine scans and physical ballots (approximately 5-10, out of 1505 cast). EPEC is working to confirm if this discrepancy was reported on the official Statements of Results or not.
EPEC’s collection and analysis of additional datasets resulted in the discovery of further issues and discrepancies, to include the following:
EPEC assisted poll watching teams with a unique web form for documenting observations. According to its analysis of 738 reports (at the time of this writing) by poll watchers in Virginia, 21% (155 reports) contained at least one serious issue flagged for further review; 10.16 % (75 reports) specifically flagged data discrepancies or equipment issues. The VA poll watcher reporting summary can be reviewed at https://digitalpollwatchers.org/2022-general-election-va-poll-watcher-reporting-summary/
The PWC Electoral Board is expected to meet Tuesday, Nov. 15th, to perform a final certification of local election results. The State Board of Elections will subsequently meet to certify the results of the election statewide.
EPEC is urging VA election officials to perform a detailed, transparent process to explain and rectify these discrepancies. It has compiled a list of recommendations based on its analysis:
Sequester all equipment at voting precincts that found discrepancies between ballots and machine-counts, perform a full hand count and tabulation audit for these precincts.
Physical ballots should be compared with the Scanner Report Tapes, the full Cast Vote Record (CVR), Digital Ballot Images and other machine records and logs.
Ensure election equipment complies with Virginia’s election statutes by certifying software, hardware, and programming hash codes, and then checking randomly selected precincts with the same equipment but with no reported issues.
Standard processes should be updated to require verification that the number of ballots in the scanner collection bin match the scanner result report tape. If the numbers do not match, an on-premises hand tabulation shall be performed by the election officers and the results recorded in the official public record.
In looking over the VA DAL data, one interesting issue that is readily apparent, is that the BALLOT_RECIEPT_DATE field for in-person, on-machine early vote data is logically impossible.
These time-stamps are supposed to be generated by the electronic poll-books when a voter is checked in at an in-person early voting site. The appeal and rationale for utilizing electronic poll-books is exactly because the can automate the recording of check-in and (theoretically) minimize human error. The operating hours of VA in-person early voting sites are limited to 7am – 7pm. I’m not aware of any in-person early voting center that had extended hours past those. Therefore, logically, we would expect that the electronic poll book generated time stamps for check-ins for in-person on-machine early votes would fall within the 7am – 7pm bounds.
The plot below is generated directly from the Daily Absentee List (DAL) file pulled from the VA Department of Elections on 11/08/2022 at 6am. The x-axis gives the time (rounded to the nearest minute) of the BALLOT_RECIEPT_DATE field associated with recorded Early In-Person On-Machine ballots in the file. The (logrithmic) y-axis gives the total number of Early In-Person On-Machine records that were recorded with that unique timestamp. The blue trace represents all of the records that fall within the daily 7am – 7pm bounds, and the red trace represents the data outside of those bounds.
There were 520,549 records that fall within the expected time bounds, and 156,576 that fall outside of the bounds. From a purely systems perspective, that means that the ability of our electronic poll books (or the backend database they are tied to) to accurately record the check-in time of Early In-Person On-Machine voters has an error rate of 156576 / (156576+520549) = 23.12%.
Let me say that again. A 23.12% error rate.
23.12% of the time, our electronic poll-book based system is reporting a logically impossible time for a person to have physically walked into an open + operating early voting location to check-in and cast their ballot.
Now, if we want to be generous and allow for the possibility that maybe voting locations opened early or closed late and we pad our (7am – 7pm) bounds to be from (6am – 8pm) and run the same analysis, we still get an error rate of 23.09%.
If we pad the hours of operations limits even further to (5am – 9pm), we still get an error rate of 23.06%.
If we run the same analysis using the 7am – 7pm bounds on the 2021 and 2020 data we get 29.64% and 71.17% error rates, respectively.
I adjusted the allowed times to 7am-10pm and re-ran the most recent 2022, 2021 and 2020 DAL files, as well as breaking down by locality. While doing this I noticed that some localities had all timestamps set to midnight, while others still had invalid timestamps set to unique values (but outside operational hours), and some had combinations of both. I’ve delineated the plots such that magenta traces are from ballot receipt timestamps that are all set to midnight, red trace is invalid timestamps not set to midnight, and blue traces are valid within 7am-10pm hours of operation (which is very very generous).
There are two error percentages being computed and being displayrd in the graph title area. The first (“BRx error”) is as described above and results in a 23.14% error in the 2022 VA statewide data. The second (“BRx_Mok error”) is as described above except we allow for the uniformly midnight ballot receipt dates to be presumed allowable, and results in a 0.05% error metric.
The inclusion of the latter class of error computation is in order to account for the remote chance that a locality is legitimately using paper poll books or otherwise not recording the time of the voter checkin, but only recording the date information (which would be consistent with all timestamps at midnight). VA requires the use of electronic poll books, but there are still some that use manual entry paper poll-books as backup. So even IF that was the explanation for why so many entries were uniformly timestamped to midnight … (A) why did they have to go to their paper poll book backups in the first place? and (B) we still have a residual error of 0.05% across the state that needs to be explained even after removing uniform midnight timestamps from consideration. That might not seem a terribly huge error rate at first blush, but when you consider that most electronic data recording systems (at least that I am aware of) have error rate requirement thresholds for acceptance testing set to the order of 1/1,000,000 … thats still unacceptable. I have been unable to find a documented requirement for error rate threshold for the electronic poll book systems used in VA, as per the VA department of elections.
The complete tabulation of all errors for each locality is provided here:
The segmented Prince William County (my home county) 2022 plot is below. There is a 0.06% error rate of invalid (all midnight) timestamps in the Ballot Receipt date data.
The segmented Loudoun County 2022 plot is below. There is a 0.03% error rate of invalid (all midnight) timestamps in the Ballot Receipt date data.
The segmented Manassass City 2022 plot is below. There is a 5.82% error rate of invalid (all midnight) timestamps in the Ballot Receipt date data.
The segmented Mathews County 2022 plot is below. There is a 24.21% error rate of total invalid timestamps in the Ballot Receipt date data, and a reduced error rate of 15.71% when allowing all midnight timestamps to be considered as valid.
The segmented Virginia Beach City 2022 plot is below. There is a 0.24% error rate of invalid (all midnight) timestamps in the Ballot Receipt date data.
The complete set of generated plots for every locality is included in the attached zip file:
The EPEC staff monitors the Virginia Daily Absentee List for unexpected values. We essentially “audit” the electoral process in Virginia during an election cycle. We are currently monitoring the 2022 General Election.
One of the areas of interest is the DAL – Daily Absentee List. It shows the current status of absentee voting in Virginia – by mail in ballot and early voting (absentee in person).
In Virginia, Absentee In-Person Early Voting started on Friday, September 23. Our initial DAL file was saved on Saturday, September 24, at 9 PM.
The official Ballot Status in the DAL at 9 PM was:
Federal Worker Absentee Ballot (FWAB) 1
On Machine: 8,397
Not Issued: 5,766
Grand Total: 319,939
Nearly 19,327 ballots – 6 % of those requested, were in a state which would not be counted if the election vote counting period were over today – Not Issued, Unmarked, or Deleted. There was also 1 ballot in a Pre-Processed Ballot Status state. The magnitude of ballots in one of these “states” is surprising but not alarming.
It appears Not Issued means there is either a backlog in mailing out ballots or an issue with voter registration – legal name, address of record in the registration database, citizenship, etc. Unless the backlog or issue is resolved, the voter will be denied a ballot.
Unmarked is associated with mail-in Absentee Ballots. A Marked ballot is moved to an Unmarked status if an election official notices an error with the associated absentee ballot documents such as a name or address error, missing signature, or missing signature verification. Election officers are required to contact voters if their ballot requires a cure– correction to the information accompanying the ballot. If the cure is not provided, the ballot will not be counted. Some voters choose to have a new ballot mailed to them if a cure is required, in which case a ballot in the Unmarked state will be spoiled and marked Deleted in the system. This is one of the reasons we see voters having one or more Deleted ballots associated with them in the DAL files.
Deleted ballots are not supposed to be processed (counted). We believe these are officially referred to as “spoiled ballots. The process to keep these separate from countable ballots is an interest area for election integrity observers. The most common reason for ballots to get Deleted (spoiled) is voter error. Examples: mistake when filling out a ballot in person resulting in the first ballot being spoiled and a new ballot issued, or a voter surrendering an absentee ballot to vote in person or receive a new one via the mail.
More accurate voter registration recordsMAY reduce the volume of initial Not Issued and Deleted ballots. Our post-election observations and recommendations will address this issue. Our initial hypothesis – changes in residency, relocation within Localities, ineligible voters requesting ballots, and voters passing away probably account for most of the unexpectedly large values of ballots in an “at risk” state.