Election Experts Brief Press on the Viability and Risks Associated with Hand-Counting Ballots

Experts from the National Task Force on Election Crises held a briefing to evaluate the viability and risks associated with hand-counting ballots, and to expose what’s driving the effort to replace tabulation machines with hand-counting in certain U.S. jurisdictions. The Task Force panelists at the briefing were Hannah Fried, Executive Director of All Voting is Local, Michael Morley, Sheila M. McDevitt Professor at Florida State University College of Law, and Tammy Patrick, CERA Chief Executive Officer of Programs with The National Association of Election Officials.

A recording of the briefing can be found, here. To learn more about the drawbacks of replacing tabulation machines with hand-counting, check out the newly released Task Force Hand Count Explainer

At the briefing, Hannah Fried noted what’s been driving groups in Arizona and elsewhere to push for expanding the hand count of ballots, saying, “Conspiracy theories about our elections have become the basis for a bad-faith push to use a method of counting ballots that does not make our elections more transparent or secure.” These attempts to move to hand-counting have raised alarm bells with top election officials, most recently from the Attorney General of Arizona, who issued a letter to county officials reminding them that they have no legal authority to count all ballots by hand.

When referencing her own professional experience as a local election official, Tammy Patrick said, “We moved away from the hand-counting of ballots in order to get official results because human beings are prone to error in repetitive counting tasks and there was a real desire to obtain accurate results more quickly.” Patrick noted exceptions for when hand-counting can be appropriate, saying it can be used “As a manual check during post-election audits to verify and validate that the voting equipment correctly captured the voter’s intent and tabulated correctly,” or in small jurisdictions with minimal items on the ballot. 

When assessing the Nye County, Nevada hand count of a relatively small amount of ballots, Michael Morley shared that, “According to one press account, officials estimate a 25% error rate arising from the hand count.” Morley warned, “When you’re introducing those sorts of errors into the post-election process, when you’re introducing those sort of errors into the tabulation process, you’re creating much more uncertainty, you’re undermining public confidence in the outcome of an election, and you’re opening the door to litigation.”

Despite these warnings, there remains an ongoing effort to persuade jurisdictions to adopt hand-counting in Arizona and across the county.