What is a Citizen Exit Pol ?
        (also known as Parallel Elections)

Parallel Elections (PE)

A PE is a citizens' written exit poll. A PE is an attempt for citizens to regain control over elections by conducting their own independent, unofficial election outside official polling places, and invite voters to participate on their way out of the polls. It is not unusual to have 50% participation, which is much higher than exit polling, which polls about 5% of voters. *****

PEs participants sign an affidavit that they voted the same way in the PE as they did in the official election, then fill out a secret paper ballot, fold it and put it into a secured ballot box. The ballot box is sealed and witnessed by the last voter and brought to a public counting place and counted in public. These extra steps give PEs high reliability and usefulness. The data is analyzed after the election and we look for anomalies in the data, particularly in the differences between the PE results and the official results.

Statistical analysis is important here, and we are now considering how to show people to do this on their own.

The Birth of PEs

In March 2005 Former election official Ellen Brodsky conducted a parallel election in Coconut Creek, Florida. Her purpose was to test the accuracy of the voting machines used in a special election concerning a gambling initiative. 67% of the voters in that precinct participated in the parallel election. The PE gave a few voters an immediate opportunity to write and sign affidavits stating that, for them, either the candidate or the initiative had not appeared on the screen of the electronic voting machine. The affidavits provided admissible court evidence, called "past recollection recorded," to demonstrate that the electronic voting machines did not consistently contain the required ballot information. To read the entire description of this Brodsky's first parallel election, go to Lynn Landes' website www.ecotalk.org.

The Genesis of the San Diego Special Election PE (July 26th, 2005)

In mid July 2005, election justice activist Jim Hamilton asked me (Judy Alter) to help audit the mayoral run-off race in San Diego on July 26. When Jim and I decided to conduct parallel elections, I consulted Ellen Brodsky. I followed most of her procedures and modified some in cooperation with the 23 volunteers who came from seven CA counties. We conducted five parallel elections at polling sites that housed 11 precincts.

As part of our preparation, Jim contacted the San Diego Registrar of Voters and requested the vote counting schedule for the absentee ballots and the mandatory hand recount of 1% of the precincts, required by CA election code. I thought we should witness these counting sessions as part of the audit. I did not receive this information and we did not witness them.

The short lead time only gave us a week to publicize to the voting public that citizens were going to conduct parallel elections. The more information voters receive about parallel elections, the more they should be willing to participate. We want as high a number of votes as possible to compare to official voting results. The publicity, how­ever, should not include the locations of the parallel elections.

When planning to conduct parallel elections, gather a team: a person experienced in rapid media response, a legal advisor familiar with election law, a research statistician or two, and someone who can scout the best poll sites. Brodsky recommended choosing polling sites for parallel elections that have only one entrance and exit for voters. This single entrance enables all voters to pass the parallel election table. Even sidewalks on both sides of the table make it difficult for volunteers to greet and hand information to all voters. In addition to a single entrance, from our experience in San Diego, we recommend that volunteers choose sites with previous records of high voter turnout.

Although a parallel election is non-partisan, we located the table beyond 100 feet from the poll door and publicly measured the distance. To set-up of a parallel election a card table is a minimum size but a longer folding table is probably better. Hang a sign on the table identifying it as a citizen audit parallel election.

The San Diego PE Gets up to Speed

At the beginning of the election, one volunteer should go into the official poll to introduce him/herself to the poll workers and inform them about the parallel election citizens are conducting outside their site. Reassure them that the purpose of the parallel election is to double-check the accuracy of the election machinery thereby enabling voters to trust the official tallies.

Many of our volunteers at the five sites encountered hostility from the poll workers. One told voters not to participate and another told them to vote for different candidates than they had voted for in the official election. Voters actually reported these incidences to us and wrote them in affidavits. One inspector called the police. Even though the police reassured the inspector that a parallel election was legal, four police cars remained in the parking lot of that site for many hours of the day. The voter participation rate there was only 25%, the lowest of our five. After the police cars left, voters eagerly participated. At other sites official election inspectors showed up off and on all day. At only one site were the poll workers cooperative.

The materials for a parallel election are readily available and inexpensive: a box, a roster book, such as a composition book, 5-6 clipboards, markers and pens, a tablet and envel­ope for written voting irregularities, and the printed documents. The essential documents include the voter instruction sheet (see attached document) and the ballot. It must not look in any way like the official ballot but needs to contain the same information. Because it is difficult to estimate the number of ballots to print ahead of time, print more than you think you will need. Also have available an information sheet about voting justice and election problems for further voter education.

The set-up and procedure of a parallel election utilize the same safeguards as an official one. We sealed the parallel election ballot box inside and out and asked the first voter to witness that the box was empty before voting. We sealed the lid to the ballot box with masking tape that first voter signed as did a volunteer.

After voters had voted in the official election, us we asked participating voters to sign and print their names in a roster book agreeing that they were "voting voluntarily in this parallel election and pledging to vote the same way as in the official election." The signatures provide evidence for legal procedures if they are required to challenge the election. Though Ellen Brodsky asked voters to sign their ballots, the San Diego group wanted to maintain the use of a secret ballot, so, instead we used a roster book for voters' signatures.

Voters then picked up a clipboard with a ballot, stepped away from the table to fill out their ballot privately, folded and deposited it into the box. The process took voters less than a minute. We invited voters who turned in their absentee ballot on election day to participate also and simply to mark an A for absentee in the roster book and on their PE ballot. We identified the ballots as absentee because officials do not count them on the precinct scanners and we wanted to get an accurate total of the election day voters.

Voters in the parallel election in San Diego, made many positive comments as they participated. The people who turned us down said they did not have time or just said, "no thank you." The volunteers conducting the parallel election felt exhilarated in their civic engagement with the public. I felt very moved by the trust the voters showed us, fellow citizens, especially in their willingness to sign their names before voting.

The election started and ended at the same time as the regular election: 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Like official elections, we asked the last voter to witness the sealing of the slot in the ballot box and to sign the tape as did one of the volunteers. While one volunteer packed up the supplies, another witnessed the closing of the official poll and waited to copy the official totals that the poll workers were required to post on the precinct door. This important chore required patience by all involved. In two of our 5 sites, the poll workers refused to allow volunteers to witness the closing processes of the official poll. This was another of several violations of election regulations we encoun­tered.

Whereas only 25% of voters participated at the site where the police cars remained most of the day, the response rate at the other four sites was 38%, 57.5%, 58.5%, and 66%. The overall response rate for our five sites was 49.8%: 1516 out of 3045. These voters wanted to double-check the accuracy of Diebold Accu-Vote scanners used to tally the ballots at the precincts.

To reassure voters that we volunteers would not tamper with the parallel election paper ballots, the volunteers signed the sealed box and signed again on the last page of the roster book. We wrote on that page a pledge that we would not tamper with the ballots. Then we put the unused ballots, if any, into the envelope in which they came and marked the number of empty ballots next to the total number we started with. We put the official posted totals into the parallel election roster book to keep the book and official tally together, and we taped the ballot envelope and the roster book to ballot box. We then put the box into the trunk of one of our cars and when possible photographed this act.

The San Diego PE Results

Earlier in the day, Channel 10 News broadcasters had picked up the police call on their scanner and had gone to the poll site where we were conducting a parallel election. They provided wonderful unsolicited news coverage to our action by broadcasting an interview with the Registrar of Voters, Mikel Haas. Haas announced on T.V. that what we were doing was legal. The news about our parallel elections with that interview led the 9:00 news.

When the PE volunteers arrived at Denny's where we arranged to count the ballots we found that the management did not want us to videotape in the restaurant to protect the privacy of their customers. But we found the director of Channel 10 news waiting for us. He invited us to count our PE ballots in their conference room where we counted with two cameras rolling, theirs and one brought by one of our volunteers. The parallel election led the 11:00 pm news including a short interview with me and shots of us counting the ballots.

We counted the ballots using the method that election officials use to conduct a manual recount: one person reads out the candidate's name, one witnesses this, and a third person records the vote. If possible, two people can record to double-check each other. After this first step, we then sorted the ballots into piles for each candidate to double-check the first, oral tally. Another person counted the names in the roster book and compared the total number of voters to the total number of ballots. At the end of this careful and laborious counting process we then compared our results to the official results and three statisticians analyzed them.

Though a mayoral election is non-partisan, the leading candidate, Donna Frye, is a Democrat. She won 43% of the total votes in the official tallies but in our small sample, she garnered 50.1%. Two known Republican candidates came in second and third. In our parallel election results these candidates earned 2% less than in the official results. We analyzed the votes at our five sites by political party and found that at three sites more Republican voters participated than Democrats. In the two sites where Frye won, a similar percentage of voters voted in both elections. In two sites one of the Republican candidates received the same percentage of PE votes as in the official election and in two others sites we found the same pattern for the other Republican candidate. These observations at first led us the think that we had a representative sample of the voters.

The statisticians who analyzed our results agreed that the differences between the PE tallies and the official ones could not have happened by chance. Said another way, the probability of these results occurring is one in a million. They suggested that we probably did not have a random sample but we would not be able to determine why the differences were so great unless we recounted our precincts. Other explanations included that our PE voters were biased, that they did not vote honestly with us, or that the scanners counted wrong.

Partial Recount

We requested a partial recount of our 11 precincts, 12 more precincts that we chose as allowed by law in the process of a recount, and all of the ballots hand-counted in the mandatory 1% of precincts that we had wanted to witness when it occurred the first time. The RoV had told us that he did not select these precincts randomly as required by law. We found the recount results inconclusive. The people recounting found 4 variations in our 11 precincts, and 10 variations in the surprise 12 precincts. In the 1% manual recount ballots, that constituted 48.8% of the 11000 ballots they found no variations.

The officials told us they had not sealed the ballots from July 26 until August 23rd because they knew we were requesting a recount. In fact during the one and a half days of the recount we only saw 4 out of 31 packages of ballots that were sealed in their plastic bag. Thus we do not know whether or not anyone tampered with the ballots.

Since our PE included only .6% of the voters in the SD run-off election and our partial recount covered only 4.4% of the ballots we conclude that our numbers were too small to demonstrate whether or not the machine tallies were accurate. And the partial recount revealed serious problems with the way officials conducted it. I believe that we must conduct many more parallel elections in larger elections to understand their value.

Observations and Recommendations

The following recommendations come from our experience in San Diego:

  1. Use teams of three rather that two. Have one volunteer oversee voters signing the roster book. Trade roles of greeting voters and replenishing the clipboards with ballots.
  2. If possible send in relief volunteers for the last 3-4 hours of the election. Make sure they are trained in the protocol: voters must sign the roster book and then vote.
  3. Become familiar with official election procedures and voters rights. Be able to contact your legal advisor throughout the day.
  4. Organize parallel elections teams with at least one person familiar with the neighborhood services near the poll, especially food and copy shops.
  5. Strategize with your statistician and media person planning to analyze and respond rapidly to any and all news coverage.
  6. Associate conducting parallel elections with the possibility of requesting recounts.
  7. Plan and arrange for collecting donations to fund both the materials for the parallel election and recounts if required.

Parallel elections serve as a form of exit poll with fewer limitations. In exit polls, interviewers ask voters to participate by using numerical intervals such as every 3rd or 6th voter. The interviewer does not remain at the poll all day while PE volunteers do. If the interviewer needs to choose between two voters who emerge from the poll at the same time, that choice introduces bias into the sample. Thus, what interviewers intend to be a random sample may not always be random. In contrast to an exit poll a parallel election has voters vote in secret; they do not say out loud for whom they vote. Partici­pation is not limited to a random sample of voters but invites all voters to participate. Both sur­veys, however, are limited because voters participate, OR NOT, voluntarily so neither may produce a random sample.

In California, we are applying what we learned in San Diego about how to conduct parallel elections to our goal to conduct them in as many CA counties as possible for the Nov. 8 special election. Since there is evidence that in the 2003 Recall election Arnold Schwarzenegger only won on Diebold touch-screen machines and scanners, we are very concerned that the upcoming election tallies may not reflect the true choices of the electorate. 

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