Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Recounts and Fraudulent Elections Cost Big Time

Fraudulent elections can cost countries millions of dollars, not to mention being doomed to years of policies implemented by the wrong candidate, a candidate not democratically selected by that nation’s people.

In suspected fraud situations or close races, nations can almost always expect a recount, especially with populous support and the high emotions that accompany most political elections.

Take Mexico’s 2006 general election for example. With the support of a half million protestors in Mexico City, presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador demanded a vote-by-vote recount of 41 million ballots.

Felipe Calderón had been declared the winner immediately after the vote by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) until protests forced a recount of the ballot tallies, which reviewed part of the votes. The thin margin found in favor of Calderón was 244,000 votes, which is only 0.6 percent of the total votes cast.

Mexican cost estimates for the recount are not available, but elections are more expensive in countries with less multi-party electoral experience. In a Mexican election the cost per elector is about $5.90, whereas in countries with stable democracies and longer multi-party democratic experience such as the United States, most Western European countries, Chile, Costa Rica, and Australia, the cost is between $1 and $3 per elector.

To get an idea of what a recount costs, we can look at a study by the Pew Center that tags the cost for recounts at 15 cents per vote. For Mexico that translates to an estimated six to 15 million dollar price tag for the recount alone.

Much of the cost can be linked to two factors: the tedious process of individually counting each ballot and the public’s suspicion of fraudulent election processes. These problems can be alleviated with the use of electronic voting machines which are more secure than paper-only ballots and have the capability to recount votes with incredible speed and accuracy.

"Multiple, overlapping audit trails of the number of voters who have voted and the number of ballots cast, as well as votes that were canceled, are recorded in each precinct on Election Day and compiled and retained after the election,” said Kathy Rogers, Director of Election Administration for the State of Georgia, stated in her May 5, 2004 testimony before the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

“After the polls close these numbers are reconciled with the numbers produced by the electronic voting system during the vote tally and any 'extra' votes or cancellations would be immediately identified.”

Electronic voting machines have automatic checks in place to avoid discrepancies in the first place and also provide a system to recount votes if necessary. Some other fail safes include redundant memory storage, tally checks, and other validation and verification measures.

"In the event a recount is necessary, electronic voting machines provide the most accurate and verifiable measure of voter intent of any system currently employed in U.S. election,” said the Election Technology Council.

Elections are far from inexpensive in the first place, and voter recounts including individual counting of millions of ballots hold a high price for taxpayers. Countries are well-advised to convert to more efficient electronic systems, especially transitional or young democracies who generally incur even greater election expenses.