Nov 08 Excerpt: Chain-of-Custody

We note that the adherence to prescribed chain-of-custody and ballot security procedures varies widely among audited districts. Laws that govern the sealing of ballots, memory cards, and tabulators after an election are unclear. Ballots are not maintained in secure facilities such that all access is reliably, credibly recorded, and such that two individuals are required for access.  In most towns both registrars, and in many towns several other individuals, have unsupervised individual access to the sealed ballots. The lack of uniform security of the ballots diminishes confidence in the integrity of the ballots counted in an audit.

We emphasize that this report does not question any individual’s integrity.  However, we do not believe a secure system is one that relies on single individuals with opportunity to alter records.

Several reports revealed multiple concerns with chain of custody. In twelve (12) observations, [1] observers expressed concerns with the chain of custody in the following ways:

  • Six (6) observations indicated that the ballots were not under the observation of two individuals at all times.
  • Two (2) observations indicated that the ballot transfer cases were opened prior to the announced start time of the audit.
  • Four (4) observations reported that ballot transfer case seals were not intact.
  • Three (3) towns failed to reseal the ballots at the end of the audit. This is an improvement over the seven (7) cases observed in August.
  • Three (3) observers reported that seals had been applied on election night and were still intact. However, these seals did not, in fact, seal the ballot transfer cases containing the ballots. According to these observers:

Ballots never sealed properly because seals were not through proper links so ballots could be accessed without disturbing seals[2].

While intact, one seal was threaded through a luggage tag tie attached to the zipper pull and not to the zipper pull itself. If the luggage tag was cut, the bag could have been opened and resealed with a new luggage tag.

Cardboard Box with Handwritten Seal

When I arrived one registrar was alone in the room with an open box of ballots. The ballots were in four cardboard boxes.  She said the registrars opened one box in the afternoon to start making piles of 50 for the teams to count.  The seals were hand numbered pieces of paper taped to the top of each box.  The seals were not disturbed by the opening of the boxes.

  • One (1) observation reported that some ballots were not sealed at all:

Only one bag of ballots had a seal.  Two large boxes of ballots were taped shut with clear postal tape but had no seals.  All were stored in a vault (storage room) adjoining the audit room… The cardboard boxes used as containers were not tamper-proof.  Although taped up thoroughly, they had been re-used and re-taped many times and it would be easy to do so again without creating a tip-off that they had been opened.

  • One (1) observation report noted a so-called ballot “sleep-over”. From our observer:

Registrar did not record forms at counting site. Took them and sealed ballots to office to record… There was a discrepancy between tape and manual votes and ballots. Instead of locking the ballot sack back up in the room and cupboard where it had been locked, the registrar took it home!

[1] Although we observed a total of forty-seven (47) audits we did not observe every attribute of every audit:  Some questions did not apply in some audits; observers could not fully observe audits that continued beyond one day etc.

[2] All comments in this document have been edited for length spelling, grammar, and to make meanings clear.

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