Some Lessons from Iowa

Several people have written recently about the Iowa caucus results, including our good friend Doug Chapin.  I am going to pile on here but make a couple of broader points.

First, the Iowa results and the subsequent recertification of the results make a point that Lonna Atkeson, Mike Alvarez, and I make in our upcoming book on election audits:  election results are only meaningful if there is a chain of custody for the ballots.  You can audit, recount, and certify ballots after an election, but unless you can prove with a chain of custody that the ballots are not tampered with and are the same ballots that were cast on election day, any counting is rather pointless.  Elections are an end to end process, not a “count at the end of the night” process.  If people are not following procedures for handling ballots and there is not documentation of how ballots were handled — with signatures on forms documenting the hand off of ballots from location to location, for example, — then it is not possible to know what is being counted, let alone if the ballots are counted correctly.

Second, the process in Iowa also illustrates the problems associated with pure paper-based voting.  With either DRE electronic voting or voting with paper ballots that are scanned, there is a second, computer-based set of tabulated results.   If one set of results is lost, there is a backup.