Financial audits are standard practice in the business world. Election audits also should be standard practice in every state after every election. Audits would determine whether the election was administered honestly, fairly, accurately and in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.
Yet audits of election agencies, procedures and systems are almost nonexistent in America. The very concept of comprehensive election audits has been criticized and opposed by some election officials and even by the current U.S. Department of Justice.
Why would officials oppose such audits, unless they fear they will turn up embarrassing mistakes, incompetence or malfeasance? The Justice Department’s opposition to the Arizona state Senate’s audit of Maricopa County was a purely partisan action that had no legal merit. Election audits are well within the constitutional authority of states.
It should be understood that what some election officials refer to as audits are not, in fact, audits. Simply recounting, by hand, ballots that were counted by a computer scanner on Election Day is not a comprehensive audit. Yes, that can can ensure that the scanners were operating and tabulating the vote correctly. However, it cannot tell whether the ballots were cast by eligible, qualified voters. If noncitizens or people living outside a jurisdiction are able to register and vote without being detected by election officials, a simple recount will not alert authorities that illegal ballots were cast.
Election audits should be conducted by independent, experienced experts. Obviously, you cannot have election officials audit their own performance. Corporate audits are conducted by independent experts to avoid having corporate personnel cover up mistakes, errors and problems. Corporate staff — just like election officials — have a nonwaivable conflict of interest that prevents them from serving as independent auditors.
To ensure the integrity of our elections, it would be best for every election jurisdiction, from counties to townships, to be audited after every election. That may not be possible due to cost and a lack of experienced auditors. But states could implement a system that audits a number of different jurisdictions within the state on a rotating and random basis, guaranteeing that every election jurisdiction would be audited at least once every few years.
A mandatory audit system like this should also require election officials, as well as third parties who provide election services and equipment, to cooperate fully with auditors or risk being fired.
Comprehensive election audits would make sure election officials took all steps necessary before the election to ensure only eligible individuals cast ballots, which entails checking legal residence, age, citizenship and other requirements. Auditors would check that all voting equipment was subjected to testing both before and after the election, was not connected to the internet at any time during the voting and tabulation period, and that no unapproved software or malware was to added before or after the election.
Auditors would make sure all election observers were given complete access to the entire voting and tabulation process, including the handling of absentee ballots, to ensure compliance with all voter ID, signature-matching and other legal requirements.
Auditors would also check that all complaints by voters, observers and candidates were investigated and properly resolved, and that violations of legal requirements were reported to election and law enforcement officials.
A financial audit should be conducted to verify that all election-office appropriations were properly spent on nonpartisan activities related to registration, voting and administration of the election.
This is not a list of everything an audit should encompass, but it provides an idea of some of the basic requirements. Comprehensive election audits should become a routine occurrence in our elections. They are necessary to ensure the proper conduct of the entire election process and to assure the public, candidates, political parties and the media of the honesty and integrity of our elections.
• Hans von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow and manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at The Heritage Foundation. His new paper, “Best Practices and Standards for Election Audits,” can be found at heritage.org.