It’s been nearly a year since the 2020 election, but scrutiny of the ballots goes on. And, in Volusia County’s case, the results are good.
The ballot-auditing organization Citizens Oversight Projects, or COPS, recently congratulated Elections Supervisor Lisa Lewis for that, and also thanked Lewis for helping test auditing software.
COPS founder Ray Lutz is a big proponent of election transparency.
“We think that every election should have an independent ballot-image audit,” he said. “Every election. Everywhere. All contests. Our point of view is, we don’t trust anyone, we want to look at the hard facts.”
But such audits are not possible everywhere, because not all elections offices preserve the ballot images. Volusia County does.
If you voted in Volusia County in the 2020 presidential election, you cast your vote on one of many election machines.
After you bubbled in your choice for president, your paper ballot was fed into a machine that recorded your vote and took a photo of your ballot.
While the vote totals are transmitted wirelessly to the Elections Office, the ballot images are stored on flash drives and uploaded to Elections Office computers later.
The ballot images can be used for auditing results to ensure the numbers line up. But not every county saves the images, and Volusia County only recently began saving them, thanks in part to insistence from Florida Fair Elections Coalition Director Susan Pynchon.
“It is a check on the vote count,” Pynchon explained. “If there is a difference, it doesn’t mean that there was a miscount of the votes, it doesn’t mean there was fraud, it doesn’t mean any of that. But when there are discrepancies, it provides an indicator that we should do a little more research into what happened.”
The COPS audit found two problems in Volusia County, neither of which affected the vote totals. In one case involving a Deltona precinct, ballot images stored on a flash drive had never been uploaded to the Elections Office main computer. The results had been transmitted to the Elections Office on election night, however, so the result wasn’t affected.
Another discrepancy involved a New Smyrna Beach early-voting site where an error occurred while uploading ballot images from the flash drive onto the Elections Office computer. The flash drive wasn’t readable, so an elections official cleared the data and did the upload over again.
When Lutz ran the ballot image data through AuditEngine, though, he found that not all the data from the first upload had cleared. Some 5,000 ballot images were stored in the system twice.
Again, this did not affect any vote totals, but any discrepancies ought to be reported, Lutz said.
The fact that the voting machines themselves did not alert officials to these errors is a problem, Lutz told The Beacon.
Volusia County uses voting machines made by the company Election Systems & Software, or ES&S. Machines like these are meant to eliminate human error, but when they do not alert elections officials to a missing flash drive or to duplicated ballot images, that’s a problem.
“The election management system should never allow them to make that mistake,” Lutz said. “They should be alerted to say they didn’t read in this drive and ‘you can’t certify the election until you do.’”
Independent audits like the one conducted by COPS help everyone learn the particulars of some of the most important decisions made.
As thanks for allowing COPS to examine Volusia County’s data, Lutz and Pynchon presented Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis with a certificate of appreciation.
Lewis said election transparency is important to her, too.
“I am proud to say every audit we have conducted has been 100-percent accurate,” she said. “I come from banking. These ballots and voting machines are like money to me; all needs to be kept safe and secure.”
And no, she said, there is no reason to think Volusia County’s elections have been compromised in 2020, nor will they be.
“We have so many checks and balances throughout the whole election process,” Lewis said. “As I state when I speak to people, ‘We care about this process of voting, this is my vote, my family, and my friends also; not to mention all of yours. Don’t you think I want to make sure all is transparent and honest; ensuring all votes count?’”