Last updated on: 4/23/2008 | Author:

What Is the Difference between an Audit and a Recount?

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.”

2005 - National Academy of Sciences (NAS)

David Dill, PhD, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, stated in his testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration on June 21, 2005:

“One of the most important practices that could be adopted is the routine auditing of elections by choosing a small random sample of the ballots and manually counting them. This practice would make a valuable distinction between ‘audits,’ which are routine checks on the quality of elections, and ‘recounts,’ which have become increasingly politicized. Routine random audits would often catch procedural, equipment, and personnel problems in uncontroversial elections, so that those problems can be fixed before they potentially affect an election outcome.”

June 21, 2005 - David L. Dill, PhD

VoteHere, an election audit and verification technology manufacturer, included the following description on their website (accessed May 31, 2006):

“A recount looks only at the end of the voting process – the final result – not at the systems, procedures, and data that form a path to the final result. It is highly probable that the people conducing the recount will get a different total during each recount, but have no chance of determining if and where errors were made along the way to achieving the final result.

An audit, on the other hand, looks at each transaction that makes up an election result. During an audit process, problems are detected and remedied end-to-end, at every step of the voting process from pre-election setup and L&A [logic and accuracy] testing, through Election Day, and ending at canvass and the final result. Each transaction is tracked from initial entry to final result, so end totals are consistent and highly accurate, with the ability to track every vote choice on every ballot individually. This is similar to how banks and most companies are audited…

Audits monitor the following:

  • That all data in the voting machine is official, approved, and correct
  • The behavior of the voting machines on election day
  • That nothing is added, changed, removed or corrupted from the time of voting through to the final election results
  • That election procedures were properly followed where these procedures affect ballots, ballot-related data, and ballot-handling systems in any way

Electronic voting eliminates the need to recount paper ballots, though the need for a meaningful and transparent audit of election procedures, systems, and results still exists.”

May 31, 2006 - VoteHere