Iowa will never face the mess Virginia's in

Anyone else following the Virginia attorney general election saga? With some provisional ballots still to be counted, Democrat Mark Herring leads Republican Mark Obenshain by just 117 votes out of more than 2 million cast last Tuesday. Michael McDonald and Dave Wasserman have been posting frequent updates on the situation. No matter who holds a slight lead when the official canvass concludes, there will certainly be a recount. But as Brad Friedman points out,

Unfortunately, a "recount" in Virginia is much less than it might appear. Most of the state's votes are cast on 100% unverifiable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting systems, on which it is impossible after an election to know if any vote cast on them actually reflects the intent of any voter. Those votes will not be able to be "recounted" at all. Rather, according to § 24.2-802 (D) of the Code of Virginia [PDF], a "recount" of DRE votes consists of little more than checking the results tapes printed out by the machines at the end of Election Night once again. [...]

So there is no way to know if any of the DRE votes, the majority of those cast, are actually accurate, as per any voter.

Very close elections for state legislative seats or local offices are routine in Iowa, and we could easily have a statewide contest decided by a margin as narrow as the Herring/Obenshain race. But at least Iowa would be able to recount the ballots cast, because in 2008, our state legislature approved and Governor Chet Culver signed a law requiring paper ballots to be used in all Iowa counties. Before that law passed, some counties had already invested in touchscreen machines, but Secretary of State Mike Mauro strongly lobbied for paper ballots everywhere in the state. The governor initially favored a plan that would have involved retrofitting rather than replacing touchscreen voting machines. But he relented, and Senate File 2347 eventually passed by 47 votes to 1 in the Iowa Senate and 92 votes to 6 in the Iowa House.

Thanks to the advocates and all the Iowa elected officials who made sure the nightmare unfolding in Virginia would never happen here.

P.S. - We could do more to improve our system of post-election audits.

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