Post-Election Audits Can Restore Voter Confidence in Election Results, Says American Statistical Association

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In light of the results of a Washington Post-ABC poll released this week, the American Statistical Association (ASA) has reiterated its position that post-election audits can play a critical role in restoring confidence in election results. An article about the poll in the Post stated that only about a third of Ohio voters had confidence that votes in their state would be counted accurately. ASA says post-election audits could verify election results and assure the public that vote counts are correct, and that statisticians can play a significant role in the audit process.

In light of the results of a Washington Post-ABC poll released this week, the American Statistical Association (ASA), the nation's preeminent professional statistical society, has reiterated its position that post-election audits can play a critical role in restoring confidence in election results. ASA endorsed the recently released statistical principles of ElectionAudit.org's Principles and Best Practices for Post-Election Audits 2008.

The Washington Post-ABC poll was conducted among a random sample of adults in Ohio from October 3-5, and results were reported in an October 7 article in The Washington Post. "Only about a third of voters are 'very confident' that ballots in the state will be counted accurately," the article stated. The article described the poll's finding that the "high public doubt" about the vote count on Nov. 4 as a "wild card" in Ohio.

"Ohio and other states may find a need to conduct audits after the Nov. 4 election in order to verify election results and assure the public that the recorded vote is correct," said Ron Wasserstein, ASA executive director. "Statisticians can make unique contributions to this process. The ASA, in fact, has several members who have been working on election audits for several years now and who continue their involvement in assisting states pass new or improved audit laws."

The audit principles endorsed by ASA were developed to guide the design and performance of high quality post-election audits and are the result of the work of election officials, public advocates, computer scientists, statisticians, political scientists and legislators. There are nine principles in all, and the complete list may be viewed on the ElectionAudits.org web site at http://electionaudits.org/principles. ASA has endorsed principles 5--7, the statistically relevant statements. These are as follows:

Risk-Limiting Audits: Post-election audits reduce the risk of confirming an incorrect outcome. Audits designed explicitly to limit such risk (risk-limiting audits) have advantages over fixed-percentage or tiered audits, which often count fewer or more ballots than necessary to confirm the outcome.

Addressing Discrepancies and Continuing the Audit: When discrepancies are found, additional counting and/or other investigation may be necessary to determine the election outcome to find the cause of the discrepancies.

Comprehensive: All jurisdictions and all ballot types, including absentee, mail-in and accepted provisional ballots, should be subject to the selection process.

About the American Statistical Association:
The American Statistical Association (ASA), a scientific and educational society founded in Boston in 1839, is the second oldest continuously operating professional society in the United States. For more than 160 years, ASA has been providing its 18,000 members serving in academia, government, and industry and the public with up-to-date, useful information about statistics. The ASA has a proud tradition of service to statisticians, quantitative scientists, and users of statistics across a wealth of academic areas and applications. For additional information about the American Statistical Association, please visit the association's web site at http://www.amstat.org or call 703.684.1221.

(Note to editors: ASA members are available to provide background and other information on election audits. Contact Rosanne Desmone at rosanne @ amstat.org to request contacts.)

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