Reporting Michele Gillen
INVERNESS (CBS4) – In the sleepy West Coast Florida town of Inverness, as horses graze and Spanish moss hangs still on a breezeless summer day, an elections experiment was about to get underway.
Lightening fast computer scanners, locked up ballots and a team of computer scientists from Boston, embarked on a first ever mission to verify that the votes cast in the August, Citrus County primary, are correct.
“Believe me we are not looking for trouble but we want to verify the results independently,” said Susan Gill, supervisor of elections in Citrus County.
She is one of 7 county supervisors across Florida, who agreed to allow a number of their elections to be part of the first large scale attempt to independently verify elections cast on paper ballots.
“Nelson Mandela once said ‘the thing looks impossible until it’s done.’ And we have done it,” the founder of Clear Ballot, Larry Moore told CBS4 Chief Investigator Michele Gillen.
CBS4 Investigates found the face of how America votes and whether or not every vote counts could be affected by a pioneering project unfolding in a room in which the news team camera captured this unique, independent, audit.
Gill explained that following the August election, state law required her to audit just one precinct in one race.
“One precinct, one race is not a terribly meaningful audit and we had 10 people for two days sorting the ballots so we could do that,” Gill told Gillen.
Now, Gill’s entire countrywide election, 26,000 ballots, will be scanned and audited in under three hours.
On ”audit” day, scanning began at 9:44 am. In essence, what unfolds is a high-speed, high-tech version of a hand re-count.
Asked what she would say to manufacturers who might claim that such an independent audit is not necessary Gill told Gillen, “I say, yes we do need to do that. If you have confidence in your product then you won’t be worried about us doing an audit with an independent verification.”
Haunting scenes from the 2000 Presidential Florida recount, of hanging chad ballots being examined, along with all hand recounts, could become obsolete.
One reason: the clear ballot method can instantaneously identify voter intent.
Projected onto the wall for all to see: votes cast in Citrus County for Connie Mack in the US Senate Race. Circled ovals, scribbles, check marks and X’s are visible, as are comment voters make, this one writing mouse next to Mack’s name and an empty oval. If a ballot is questionable, it is identified and examined on the spot.
“Human error is the real problem with the election process. As I say, I’ll give you perfect elections when you give me perfect voters,” Gill reflects.
Voter intent, is most critical in a close election.
“There’s nothing wrong with a close election. What’s wrong is when you can’t resolve it in a way that is transparent, quickly, cost effective and with integrity,” adds Moore.
Two hours and 38 minutes later, all 26,000 ballots had been recounted. It’s discovered that just one ballot had been missed on election night. For Susan Gill, the peace of mind is priceless.
“I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s really great and I think it’s a meaningful audit,” says Gill.