CNCounty News

Numbers stack up against the hand-count movement

Hand counting ballots is not as easy as one, two, three. 

Especially because counting votes would take seven different people, according to Mohave County, Ariz. Elections Director Allen Tempert, spending approximately three minutes on each ballot. 

One person to call the vote. Two people — one for each party — to confirm that vote. Two more people marking separate tally sheets, and at least one person validating those marks. Tempert conducted a feasibility study in 2023 to determine what would be needed to make hand-counting Mohave County’s primary mode of tallying votes in 2024, which determined a rough cost of $1.1 million to count the presidential preference election, the primary election and the general election. Mohave is one of several counties to consider the change following skepticism toward machine-counting procedures that has found little basis in fact.

“It just isn’t going to work,” Tempert said at an Aug. 1, 2023 Board of Supervisors meeting “It’s not made for the day and time. That’s why they made machines. That’s why they made a punch card machine. That’s why they made machines prior to that — they had little things like an abacus prior to that… all the way up until now, they have electronic machines to count.”

And none of this parsed the question of legality, just practicality from a standpoint of accuracy, confidentiality, timeliness and cost. In a test case of 850 ballots in mid-2023, it took that Mohave County team of seven people three eight-hour days to complete the work, and they still came away with 46 errors. And these weren’t a bunch of volunteers off the street, Tempert told the Board of Supervisors, they were a “dream team” of seasoned election staff members who had worked with his department for at least 10 years.

The feasibility study found that the dream team:

  • Called the wrong candidate and both watchers failed to notice the incorrect call 

  • Marked votes for incorrect candidates and the watchers failed to notice the error

  • Called too fast, causing candidates to be double-marked or missed 

  • Failed to pay attention because of boredom or fatigue 

“I would need people to show up for three straight weeks seven days a week, eight hours a day and the perfect scenario to get 105,000 ballots tabulated by hand,” Tempert said, a scenario which would include no attrition by any of the volunteers. With no increase in the number of votes, it would take 657 eight-hour days to tally 105,000 ballots. 

The effort would need roughly an additional one full-time employee to oversee the human resources effort to recruit, train and retain volunteers, which would include 245 tally workers, 30 write-in talliers, 56 recount talliers and three security staffers to transport ballots.

The facility needs would require the elections department to use the county fairgrounds building, after installing sound baffling and cameras for each counting area, costing roughly $100,000. 

Even if volunteers were recruited and retrained, Tempert’s biggest concern is from confidentiality, evoking D-Day and the Manhattan Project, and noting that sequestering the workers was unrealistic. 

“We run ballots through tabulation machines — there are only two people in this whole place that know anything about what the results could be and that’s my deputy director…and myself,” he said. “If I have people hand-tallying results, I cannot guarantee confidentiality no matter what piece of paper you have them signed to say ‘I swear I will not [disclose partial results].’”

“It’s obviously impossible to get hundreds of people together to do hand-tallying and for them not to go home and tell their husband or their wife or their best friend what they have seen, what’s been going on all day long.” 

The Board voted 3-2 against hand-counting the 2024 ballots.

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