In the world of elections in the United States, the majority of polling places actually count the votes that were cast right there at the end of Election Day. Whether touch screen voting & counting machines are used, or there are paper ballots that are run through a scanner/tabulator, the preliminary vote totals are recorded on strips of paper known as poll tapes. They look similar to the cash-register receipt you get when you purchase something, particularly when you buy a long list of items.
Usually, two copies of each poll tape are printed out and signed/countersigned by the two polling place officials. One accompanies the ballots when they are sent to the central counting office (typically at the Board of Elections, but almost any place big enough might be used) for a second counting. It’s the second count that is considered “official, but pending the production of that count the numbers on the tapes are announced as "preliminary results.” The second copy is displayed at the polling place so the general public can see the actual record of that polling place’s vote. Often it is taped to the inside of a window at the polling place with the numbers facing out. The user of our app will usually take pictures of the tapes at the polling place, but photos can also be taken at the Board of Elections office, county election office or other office that handles the election, where the tapes are stored, by law for 22 months in Federal elections. In other elections, the length of time varies by state. In other elections, the length of time varies by state.
The numbers on the two poll tapes must match the announced "preliminary results" for that precinct. If they don't agree there’s a problem. The problem may be a simple error or it might be evidence of fraud and needs investigation.
As you might imagine, the transportation of ballots and these printed strips from a polling place to the central counting office is one opportunity for ballots and tapes to get lost, switched or otherwise changed. While efforts are often made to assure that this doesn’t happen, it can and it does. Other oddities also occur. For example, Citizens Audit Broward in Broward County, Florida, took photos of poll tapes in March 2020; they discovered that 20 percent had been misreported by the election administrator. If that were to be repeated state-wide, it would be more than enough to flip a close election.
Actual Vote, the poll tape recording app
Our free downloadable app, Actual Vote, available by clicking the button below:
and for Android at this link: https://democracycounts.org/av-droid-beta). Actual Vote allows ordinary people using their smartphones to take videos of the poll tapes to record and preserve the data recorded there. Because Actual Vote also uploads the videos to our secure server, the numbers on the tape are preserved independently and can be compared with the official preliminary results announced by the Board of Elections. If there’s a difference, that difference must be explained and corrected, or an investigation is called for to discover what actually happened.
Because our founder and CEO, Dan Wolf, is a Harvard trained lawyer, Actual Vote, like all our apps, was designed from the beginning to provide court quality data – that is, data that provides actual evidence a judge can act on immediately. Used ubiquitously around the country, Actual Vote will deter or expose error and fraud in the reporting of precinct-level tabulated results, which comprises half of the opportunity space for fraud.
Our software will be open to examination at the request of a court; our goal is to be transparent and not hide behind defenses of "proprietary software" and "trade secrets". We’re happy to show authorities why they can rely on our data.
With Actual Vote, you, as an individual, can take videos of poll apes at any polling place. You can work with a partner or two, staying safe at night, making sure the tapes are lit well, even taking multiple videos. You can tell other voters in your precinct about it, or your cousin across the country, and encourage them to do the same thing. And you can volunteer officially and/or donate at our website using this link.
Anne Wayman is our VP and COO.