Last updated on: 3/3/2009 | Author:

Is It Possible to Have a Meaningful Recount from an Electronic Voting Machine?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

The National Academy of Sciences 2005 report titled “Asking the Right Questions About Electronic Voting,” stated the following:

“A contested election usually includes a more complete audit, which seeks to validate and verify as many aspects of the election cycle as possible without violating state privacy laws, and in particular an audit cannot use data that might associate a specific voter with a specific ballot. The most well-known action to result from a contested election is a recount of the votes, but this is only one of the actions that an audit may entail…

Recounts can involve machine retabulation of the ballots for one race, or all races, verifying the totals for each candidate or choice and/or hand counts of additional individual precinct totals in sufficient number to narrow the statistical margin of error. Note also that recounts (i.e., retabulations) per se do not usually change the outcome of elections – when outcomes change, it is usually for other reasons (e.g., in the 2000 presidential election in Florida, the count changed because of the way voter intent was interpreted on cards, not because of a difference in the machine count).

The primary challenges for election officials in audits arise when vote tabulation systems or human vote counters are unable to infer voter intent from the marks that are recorded on ballots, resulting in uncertain counts… In addition to the above (recounting ballots, determining voter intent on ambiguous ballots), an election audit may also include challenging voter registration rolls, which includes the number of voters disqualified at the polls, those disqualified during registration, and those denied absentee ballot requests; reviewing the disposition of provisional ballots; and determining whether voters received the correct ballots.”


Michael D. Byrne, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at Rice University, et. al, in a paper presented at the USENIX/ACCURATE Electronic Voting Technology Workshop on July 28, 2008 titled “Comparing the Auditability of Optical Scan, Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) and Video (VVVAT) Ballot Systems,” wrote:

“With security concerns mounting over purely electronic election results, 37 states have chosen to require physical copies of every ballot cast on an electronic system. The requirement for physical copies of ballots cast is usually met by a voting machine vendor’s implementation of a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system… These paper records can also be used for a recount…

Currently, 19 states require at least some ballots to be recounted in every election. Of these states, 17 mandate recounts of VVPAT systems, while 2 only mandate recounts of summary results, not individual ballots. As the auditing of elections by manual recounts becomes mandated by more states, it is necessary to examine usability issues in conducting these recounts.”

July 28, 2008

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), in a Nov. 4, 2003 report for the US Congress titled “Election Reform and Electronic Voting Systems (DREs): Analysis of Security Issues,” stated:

“DREs, like lever machines, simplify recounts and reduce chances for error in them because the recounts are based on the vote tallies from the machines, rather than individual ballots. However, problems with the machines themselves, including tampering, would probably not be discovered through a recount.”

2003 - Election Reform and Electronic Voting Systems (DREs): Analysis of Security Issues

PRO (yes)


The Election Technology Council produced a pamphlet titled “Separating Myths From Reality,” available on its website (accessed May 25, 2006) and stated:

“In the event a recount is necessary, electronic voting machines provide the most accurate and verifiable measure of voter intent of any system currently employed in U.S. elections. DRE systems have multiple redundant features to capture and store votes accurately. For example, in a recount, electronic voting machines allow election officials to print a paper image of each voter-verified screen for manual tabulation. Conversely, traditional lever machines only offer an unverifiable total number of votes cast for each candidate. The paper ballot is open to varied interpretations of voter intent and other problems such as ballot box stuffing and under and over counts. And we are all too familiar with the problems of punch card systems that clouded the 2000 Presidential election results.”

May 25, 2006


Neil McClure, MS, Vice President and Strategic Technical Officer of electronic voting machine manufacturer Hart InterCivic, Inc., stated in his May 5, 2004 testimony before the U.S. Election Assistance Commission:

“One of the claims of the paper ballot receipt proponents is that there is nothing to recount when using DREs. However, they are applying a paper concept to an electronic device. If we look at the purpose of a recount, it is to validate and verify the outcome of an election… A recount is much more than running the paper back through the counting machine; it involves an audit of the entire elections process…

The complaint about DREs is that if a recount is done, the exact same result is reported. But that’s the point! If the same result is not reported, then there is a problem. For example, if the much discussed Trojan Horse has worked its malicious magic during a specific time window on Election Day, then an electronic recount in which data is freshly read and tabulated WILL reveal a problem.”

May 5, 2004


Kay Maxwell, President of the League of Women Voters of the United States, in her testimony before the U.S. Election Assistance Commission on May 5, 2004, stated:

“Under HAVA, there must be a paper record of each vote from a DRE voting system. In well-run systems, the printouts with vote totals are taken throughout Election Day and compared to the total number of votes cast at the machine, to ensure security. The paper records then provide a backup for official tabulations of election results. In addition to vote totals, DREs can print out each individual ballot (without identifying the voter) to provide an additional security and audit capacity. Not only can this data be printed, it is saved electronically in multiple formats in multiple locations, so that if one mechanism fails, the information is backed up using another format in another location. In other words, DREs in well-administered systems provide a substantial audit capacity for purposes of recounts and authentication.”

May 5, 2004


Scott O. Konopasek, Founder and Managing Partner of ForeFront Election Solutions, LLC, in an Oct. 4, 2004 article titled “Paradigm Lost: The Death of the Manual Recount,” found at the Colorado Voter website, offered the following:

“The need to recount machine counted ballots is not to catch human counting or adding errors as with hand counted ballots but rather is found in the old computer maxim GIGO, meaning ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out.’ Machine operators must accurately run ballots through a machine if accurate results are expected to be reported by the machine…

To insist on having paper ballots produced on electronic voting machines for the sole purpose of recounting them is to value the ‘means’ to the exclusion of the ‘end’… there are other ‘means’ to achieve the ‘end’ of accurate and error free elections. The characteristics of Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems reduce or eliminate the risk of many of the errors that can occur in counting paper-based ballots…

The ‘means’ of validating the accuracy and integrity of modern elections conducted on DRE technology is not found in replicating recount processes that are only effective with paper based voting systems.”

Oct. 4, 2004


Election Systems and Software, Inc. (ES&S) included a “Frequently Asked Questions” section on its website (accessed May 25, 2006), which stated:

“The iVotronic [a model of electronic voting machine] allows for a printed and documented record of precinct-level election activity to verify results. If an election is ever contested, the iVotronic’s unique, patented recount system allows replication of the entire election process, including production of all ballot images for re-verification. Beyond that, the iVotronic has three independent but redundant memory chips to ensure that no votes will ever be lost or altered. Accuracy of the system can be verified for each terminal through current electronic ballot records already stored within the terminals.”

May 25, 2006

CON (no)


Stephen H. Unger, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Columbia University, in an Oct. 6, 2008 “Ends and Means” blog article titled “Forward to the Past: Junk the Machines, Count Votes Manually,” wrote:

“The first issue is, what exactly would be recounted? Clearly a second summation of machine outputs would be meaningless. We would need some record of voter-intent independent of the machines. The obvious source would be paper ballots marked by voters, which could then be hand-counted. Paper ballots printed by DRE (touch-screen) machines will not suffice, since it is well known that most voters do not actually verify the correctness of such printouts. (It is also possible for a machine to void a voter-approved ballot and to substitute a different one after the voter leaves the booth.) So meaningful recounts are possible only for OS (optical scan) systems, which process voter-marked ballots, but not for the substantial percentage of US votes now cast on DRE machines, with or without printers.”

Oct. 6, 2008


Ellen Theisen, MA, CEO of the Vote-PAD Company, wrote in her 2005 report “Myth Breakers: Facts About Electronic Elections”:

“While HAVA requires that all voting systems produce a paper record in order to provide a manual audit capacity, the paper record of a DRE is interpreted by voting machine vendors and some election officials to refer to an end-of-day printout of either the totals or the ballot images…

Computer experts point out that if a DRE makes errors in recording or storing votes, its end-of-day printouts will be incorrect and no meaningful audit can be done. When a machine produces results a second time, it’s merely a reprint, not a recount.”



Doug Jones, PhD, Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Iowa, in “The Evaluation of Voting Technology,” a chapter in the book Secure Electronic Voting, 2003, wrote:

“For over a decade, all direct-recording electronic machines have been required to contain redundant storage, but this redundant storage is not an independent record of the votes, because it is created by the same software that created the original record. As a result, recounts are of limited use with these machines.”



Matt Blaze, PhD, Associate Professor of Computer and Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania, et. al, in a paper presented at the USENIX/ACCURATE Electronic Voting Technology Workshop on July 29, 2008 titled “Security Evaluation of ES&S Voting Machines and Election Management System,” wrote:

“The normal access provided to individual precinct poll workers (and in some cases to voters themselves) is sufficient to conduct attacks that alter county-wide election results and that, in some cases, cannot be detected or recovered from through audits or recounts… the DRE system provides more vectors for attacks that cannot be recovered from through manual recounts.”

July 29, 2008


Verified Voting Foundation, a publicly verifiable elections advocacy group, in a Jan. 30, 2005 website article titled “Summary of the Problem with Electronic Voting,” offered the following:

“Without voter-verified paper records that accurately reflect the voters’ choices, it is simply impossible to perform a meaningful recount. While most DRE voting machines can print a paper record of the votes cast, this report is not generated until after the polls have closed, and is nothing more than a printout of the electronic records. If the electronic record is inaccurate, then the printed report will also be inaccurate. Such a printout is not voter-verified and does not provide an audit trail appropriate for a meaningful recount.”

Jan. 30, 2005


A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable and Transparent Elections (ACCURATE) submitted its “Public Comment on the 2005 Voluntary Voting System Guidelines” to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission on Sep. 30, 2005, which stated:

“In today’s purely electronic systems, there is no ‘fixed record’ for voters to review, or for officials to review as a check against the system or in the case of a recount. If votes were incorrectly recorded by the system there is no possibility of a meaningful recount.”

Sep. 30, 2005