'We're doing recounts of recounts of recounts,' says candidate announced as 'loser' on Election Night
UPDATE: Hand-count finds ORIGINAL tally correct...
By Brad Friedman on 11/23/2011, 3:50pm PT  

After the Municipal Council elections in Provo, Utah on November 8, residents had been told that Gary Winterton had narrowly defeated Bonnie Morrow for the District 1 seat --- by just 9 votes.

The margin was close enough that Morrow was allowed to ask for a recount of the paper ballots which were tallied on Election Night by the city's optical scan systems made by Diebold Election Systems, Inc. (Following years of failure of Diebold's voting systems, the company changed their name to Premier, only to see the assets of the failing company finally purchased last year by Dominion Voting, a Canadian firm which now services the machines.) The same optical scan systems are used all over the country, and are set once again for use in the New Hampshire's "first in the nation" GOP Presidential primary to be held in January.

The first "recount" of Provo's Municipal Council District 1 ballots --- carried out on the same op-scan systems that tallied them in the first place --- was held yesterday, only to be abruptly called off when the results were found to be "extremely in favor of the opposite candidate."

As reported by the Daily Herald this morning...

County officials recounted the ballots cast for the Provo Municipal Council District 1 Tuesday morning, but the discrepancy between the recount total and the total from election night became so large that officials stopped the counting process.
...
"They did a recount and the numbers came out so extremely in favor of the opposite candidate that there appears to be something wrong with the machine," said Helen Anderson, spokeswoman for Provo city.

Yesterday's tally, the paper reports, were "coming out overwhelmingly in [Morrow's] favor," so officials planned to begin a hand-count --- as per "Democracy's Gold Standard" --- for today...

According to the Daily Herald, however, "Bryan Thompson, Utah County clerk, noted the hand count was not preferred, as state code prescribes that recounting of votes should be done in a similar process to the initial vote count."

While voters can be thankful that 100% unverifiable touch-screen voting systems were not used in the race --- as is the case in most of Utah, including in Provo's Utah County where, as per The BRAD BLOG report in 2010, all of the county's Diebold touch-screen voting systems failed at all of their 110 polling places on Election Day --- the November 8 failure this year makes it clear once again that optical-scan systems are as unreliable as the touch-screen systems.

"The numbers were varying too much," Utah County Chief Deputy Clerk/Auditor Scott Hogensen tells the Deseret News about the District 1 race. "It became obvious the machines weren't counting things correctly."

But whether the Diebold op-scanners tallied the ballots inaccurately on Election Day or during the so-called "recount" remains unknown at the moment.

According to Deseret News, "Morrow said she asked for the recount to be done by hand in the first place but the request was denied."

"We're doing recounts of recounts of recounts. I just want to make sure the law is followed," Morrow said, adding that her confidence is now shaken in the entire process.

Amusingly, and for reasons unknown, Hogensen told Deseret News that, according to the paper, he "does not believe machine malfunctions affect the outcome of any other races in the county."

They also report that Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan E. Thompson "said the county's focus is on the District 1 race because that's where the recount was requested, but he left open the possibility a tallying problem could affect totals in other Provo races."

"Some totals could change," Thompson is quoted as saying. "If there are any questions, we'll be above board and transparent to make sure everybody has confidence in the outcome."

Following the 2008 primary election in New Hampshire, where the same Diebold op-scan systems were used, and where Hilary Clinton was reported as the "winner" on Election Night in a stunning surprise victory over Barack Obama, The BRAD BLOG wrote a series of detailed reports highlighting the fact that nobody had bothered to actually count the paper ballots before announcing her the winner. Despite conclusive evidence that those particular machines are easily manipulated, and dozens of pre-election polls predicting an easy win for Obama --- and even Election Day Exit Polls which reportedly showed him as winning handily --- most media immediately decided the polls were wrong and the Diebold-reported results were accurate.

A partial hand-count was demanded afterwards by Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich and obscure Republican candidate Albert Howard, revealing thousands of mis-tallied votes had occurred on Election Night in towns across the state.

New Hampshire, Utah, and dozens of other states use the same type of voting systems that were shown to be easily manipulated in the climactic final scene of the 2006 Emmy-nominated HBO documentary Hacking Democracy as well as numerous scientific analyses carried out across the country over the past several years.

Nonetheless, while some 20 to 30% of voters next year will be forced to vote on 100% unverifiable touch-screen voting systems next year, the very same paper-ballot optical-scan machines that failed in 2008 in the New Hampshire primary and in this month's Provo Municipal Council race (and in dozens of other elections over the years) are set to be used once again all across the country during the 2012 Presidential election cycle.

It's unlikely that voters in any of the elections held on those systems will see ballots actually counted by human being prior to "winners" and "losers" being declared on Election Night. It's also extremely rare that hand-tallies will be carried out afterwards or that elections results will be allowed to be overturned thereafter, even in the event that mis-tallies are discovered.

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Watch the climactic final scene of HBO's Hacking Democracy, when the results of a mock paper ballot election held on a Diebold op-scan system in Leon County, FL, are invisibly flipped by the op-scan system to report the opposite of the votes seen cast on the actual paper ballots...

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UPDATE 11/24/11: According to newspaper reports today, two hand-counts on Wednesday have now confirmed the accuracy of the original optical-scan count giving the election victory to Gary Winterton after all. The "recount" on the same op-scan systems seem to have been inaccurate, while the original count was accurate. We still don't know why, of course.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported things this way:

County Clerk-Auditor Bryan Thompson said Tuesday’s machine recount was halted due to discrepancies in the results, which showed Morrow had jumped ahead by 700 votes.

"That was a red flag," Thompson said.

Thompson said Dominion Voting, the Denver firm that services the scanners, is reviewing the hardware and software, leading the county to do a manual count to determine the outcome.

With the results mirroring the initial outcome, Thompson said, it shows that the scanners were operating properly on Election Night, avoiding the need to recount those votes as well.

So what went wrong with the op-scanners during the initial "recount"? Right now, who knows? But, presuming the chain-of-custody for the paper ballots has been secure over the past three weeks since the election (always a very big presumption), what we do now know is that, as usual, a hand-count of paper ballots --- or, "Democracy's Gold Standard" --- was needed to confirm the legitimacy of the election, begging the question: Why don't we just use that gold standard in the first place? Aren't American elections important enough for voters to be able to actually know who actually won and who actually lost them?

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