Opinion: Georgia election officials making sure your vote counts

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Election integrity

In recent months, there has been an uptick in calls to unseal secure ballot containers and audit the results of the May primary. This is a noble endeavor: the fate of our democracy rests in whether voters trust the electoral process.

That said, audits that take place after results are certified may do more harm than good for election integrity.

Election audits have drawn unprecedented levels of public attention since 2020. The term “election audit” typically refers to a post-election process in which auditing teams hand count a portion of voter-verified ballots and compare the totals against those of machine tabulators.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Post-election audits serve to unearth discrepancies in machine tabulation, with the vast majority of audits confirming that machine tabulation is highly accurate. In the statewide risk-limiting audit following the 2020 election, a hand count of more than 5 million ballots revealed only a 0.1053% variation in the total vote count. Georgia will be conducting another statewide risk-limiting audit this November.

In rare cases in which an anomaly is identified, audits demonstrate the system working: when there is an issue, election officials identify and address it.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

The additional, post-certification audits being called for now are intended to assure voters that their votes were counted accurately. Yet for anomalies to be properly investigated and remediated, audits must take place before results are certified.

Georgia law already requires pre-certification audits for all statewide general elections, which will include the midterm election taking place this November. To further bolster public trust, the Bipartisan Policy Center encourages states to expand pre-certification audit requirements to every election. If implemented in Georgia, current audit requirements would be expanded to include primary, special and runoff elections.

Bartow County demonstrated the importance of regular audits in action when it performed an audit of the primary election, even though not required by law. The county-wide audit confirmed a 99.89% accuracy rate of the original vote count, demonstrating to voters the exceptional trustworthiness of the county’s electoral process. This audit was successful because it took place before state certification and followed recognized security and audit protocols.

Audits that take place after certification risk drumming up doubt in election results without a process to amend them if a discrepancy is found. Making matters worse, audits that take place outside of the traditional statutory process lack the consistency needed to draw conclusions about an election’s overall integrity and threaten the security of election materials by unsealing ballot containers and interrupting the chain of custody.

Audits provide an additional check on top of an already secure system. To ensure each election is accurate, all counties conduct public logic and accuracy tests in which the accuracy of voting and tabulation equipment is rigorously tested and verified before each election. During the election, workers perform tasks publicly and follow strict chain of custody protocols to make sure that no one interferes with the ballots at any point in the process.

Demanding superfluous, unregulated audits months after an election is certified is a form of political gamesmanship that undermines our democracy and the steps already in place protecting election integrity. The stakes are too high to accept anything less than meaningful, pre-certification audits which strengthen election integrity and build trust in the democratic process.

As we approach the November election, voters and candidates alike can rest assured knowing that their local election officials are working hard to administer their elections with the respect and integrity that our democracy deserves.

Joseph Kirk is the election supervisor of Bartow County and a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center Task Force on Elections. Rachel Orey is associate director of the Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center.