Challenges and Recounts
Last updated on December 17, 2013
Electoral authorities generally follow the same procedures for challenges and recounts for an election with electronic voting or counting as they do for paper-based elections. However, in the case of electronic voting, some form of audit trail must exist so that the results can be verified and electoral authorities should consider this requirement during the planning stages for electronic voting systems. In the case of electronic counting systems, clear guidelines and rules should be established regarding the counting of ballots that are not read by scanners.
A key part of ensuring the integrity of the results is the ability of political competitors to lodge challenges to the results and receive effective redress. This is first of all a question of the legal framework. It must clearly define who can lodge a challenge against the results, which body the challenge should be lodged with, what circumstances an investigation will be conducted in and what situation a recount of the results will occur in. As the counting and tabulation processes are likely to be much faster using electronic voting and counting equipment, the deadlines for responding to challenges will need to reflect this.
Generally complaints and appeals procedures should remain the same as in traditional elections. However, the additional question of whether the equipment functioned properly may account for a greater number of challenges, and mechanisms must be in place to demonstrate that the count reflects the votes as cast through the conduct of recounts.
In order to determine whether votes have been accurately counted by a voting or counting machine, some kind of voter-verified audit trail – either paper or electronic – must exist that can serve as the basis for a recount. Without this audit trail, it is not possible to conduct a recount. While some voting machines do not produce a voter-verified audit trail, having such a trail is increasingly viewed as an emerging standard in the field. Simply recalculating the votes using the same machine is not sufficient to independently verify the accuracy of the results. In the case of electronic counting machines, the ballots that have been counted serve as the audit trail and can be manually recounted.
When electronic counting machines are used, blank ballots or ballots that cannot be read by scanners (e.g., damaged ballots or ballots with unclear or stray marks) must be set aside for adjudication, typically in the presence of candidate representatives and observers. In such cases officials must manually determine whether a vote is valid and, if so, for which candidate or party it has been marked. If candidate representatives disagree with the determination, the disputed ballots may be reviewed with a more senior-level election official who will determine if and how to count the ballot.
Manual recounts may be also called in the case of a very narrow margin of victory. Some election laws may require a manual recount should the results fall within a prescribed margin of victory. Clear and unambiguous legal guidelines must be in place for what steps should be taken if the results do not match or are not within a certain margin of error, especially whether the paper or electronic results should take precedence. Observers should closely follow the process of challenges and recounts, and audit reports should be publicly available.