New app produces audits that will stand up in the court of public opinion and in legal hearings, says CEO.
“It’s bad enough that millions of Americans don’t trust our electoral system,” argues the leader of a nonpartisan nonprofit tech group that has some ideas about how to fix things.
“Worse yet trust in our elections has eroded to the point that it is possible for an autocrat to mobilize a significant proportion of our population to support a suspension of democratic institutions,” contends Dan Wolf, the founder and CEO of Democracy Counts. He also has served as a member of an election monitoring mission to Nicaragua and a senior adviser to the US Senate election monitoring mission to Taiwan.
I bet the points Wolf makes sound familiar to many readers.
Fortunately, though, there is a potential solution for rebuilding trust: “But this cannot be done by saying ‘trust me’ more often,” insists Wolf, a Harvard-trained attorney. “It requires high-quality, independent verification, in the form of audits that will: stand up in the court of public opinion; produce data that will stand up in court when necessary; be conducted even in the face of opposition by election officials with something to hide.”
That’s where Democracy Counts enters, stage left, right, and center. The San Diego-based organization has developed an app called “Actual Vote,” that lets citizens independently audit the reporting of the vote count on election night. Anyone can download the free “flagship app” for Apple or Android.
It’s already been tested in 2020 in Broward County, a Democratic stronghold in Florida with a reputation for problem-plagued election nights. That reputation may explain why residents of the second-most populous Florida county formed Citizens Audit Broward in partnership with Democracy Counts.
The local Florida organization didn’t waste any time getting to work. Volunteers documented discrepancies in vote totals that the government reported in the 2020 presidential and local primaries as well as the general election.
Those citizen sleuths gathered data by uploading the Actual Vote app to cell phones and tablets, then taking pictures of the poll tapes that display the final vote count at polling stations. That information was then digitally transferred to Democracy Counts for storage and analysis.
The results were not enough to change an election outcome. But the beta test proved a point: citizen auditors, fanning out across the land, can produce data that serves as a check on the vote counts government agents report to the public.
And if the numbers are off enough to possibly change who won, then affected parties will have concrete information to present to a judge.
Wolf, who founded Democracy Counts in 2016, offers another wrinkle, although he did not charge that fraud had happened.
Instead, he says, “… the errors may be symptoms of a general sloppiness, a sloppiness that can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous partisan actors. If errors such as these were to be repeated enough times across enough precincts in a state, the cumulative errors could easily flip a close state or national election.”
Peter Antonacci Did Not Comment
Concerned, I emailed Peter Antonacci twice requesting comment. He served as Broward Supervisor of Elections in 2020. I have not heard back from him. Antonacci is now the first Director of the Office of Election Crimes and Security in Florida.
Getting a clear picture of vote reporting is important, according to Wolf. And notably, a team assembled by online voting rights and election transparency organization Scrutineers took images of 375 poll tapes in the Georgia Senate runoff last year. This represents 14.5% of the state.
Now, though, Democracy Counts is beta testing another free app. Called Wanna Vote, it lets volunteer auditors document allegations of voter suppression. It also generates data that Democracy Counts analysts can use to verify vote counts. It will be used by civil society groups in at least the 2024 presidential swing states. The app-auditing process is the nonprofit, nonpartisan Democracy Counts project now called America Counts.
National Run for “Actual Vote?”
As summer turns to fall, Democracy Counts is gearing up for a national run in the first nationwide election since the controversial 2020 presidential race. A grant request is pending, which, if approved, will let the organization hire staff and analysts to work with citizen auditors across the nation. But Democracy Counts is ready to expand outside of Broward County, Florida this fall, regardless of the funding situation.
In a sense, this undertaking is as American as apple pie. It’s nothing more than a ground-up check on a system of our democracy. And it is necessary now, because of rampant doubt millions of our citizens have about the integrity of our elections.
Even if some politicians continue to charge without evidence that elections are rigged. Even if 2020 was the “most secure” election in American history. And even if election authority figures resist or resent outside audits, which in most instances will reaffirm the overall accuracy of reported vote counts.