AP

Why do election experts oppose hand-counting ballots?

Nov 2, 2022, 11:11 PM | Updated: Nov 3, 2022, 12:09 pm

FILE - Steve Diorio, the Chair of the Hinsdale, N.H., Select Board, dumps out nearly 1900 ballots o...

FILE - Steve Diorio, the Chair of the Hinsdale, N.H., Select Board, dumps out nearly 1900 ballots onto a table to be hand-counted at the Hinsdale Middle High School on Nov. 3, 2020 in Hinsdale, N.H. Election experts oppose hand-counting ballots because it takes longer than counting with machines, it’s less reliable and it’s a logistical nightmare for U.S. elections. (Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP, File)

(Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP, File)

Why do election experts oppose hand-counting ballots?

It takes longer than counting with machines, it’s less reliable, and it’s a logistical nightmare for U.S. elections.

A growing number of Republican lawmakers have pushed for switching to hand-counts, an argument rooted in false conspiracy theories that voting systems were manipulated to steal the 2020 election.

Though there is no evidence of widespread fraud or tampering of machines in 2020, some jurisdictions have voted to scrap machines and pursue hand-counts instead this year.

Numerous studies — in voting and other fields such as banking and retail — have shown that people make far more errors counting than do machines, especially when reaching larger and larger numbers. They’re also vastly slower.

“Machine counting is generally twice as accurate as hand-counting and a much simpler and faster process,” said Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University who has conducted research on hand-counts.

In one study in New Hampshire, he found poll workers who counted ballots by hand were off by 8%. The error rate for machine counting runs about 0.5%, Ansolabehere said.

Just how long can hand-counting delay results? Depending on jurisdiction and staffing, it could be days, weeks or even months.

In Cobb County, Georgia, after the 2020 election, a hand tally ordered by the state for just presidential votes on about 397,00 ballots took hundreds of people five days. A county election official estimated it would have taken 100 days to count every race on each ballot using the same procedures.

Proponents of hand-counting often point to countries like France, which use it more or less successfully, but that’s because they have simpler elections with just one race at a time, Ansolabehere said.

In the U.S., ballots are far more complicated, sometimes containing dozens of local, state and federal races at a time.

Hand-counting of all ballots does happen in parts of the U.S. — in some small towns in the Northeast, for example — and it’s possible in small jurisdictions, said Gowri Ramachandran, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. The Brennan Center objected to plans for an unprecedented hand-count of mail-in ballots in Nye County, Nevada, calling it a “violation of law and common practice.” The hand-count was suspended after a Nevada Supreme Court ruling in late October.

Hand tallies are also frequently used in post-election reviews, but that usually involves only a sample of ballots and is done without the time pressure of trying to report results quickly.

A recent Associated Press survey of major party secretary of state candidates in 24 states found that the vast majority opposed hand-counting ballots. Despite growing popularity of the error-prone process among some Republicans, 13 of 23 secretary of state candidates who responded said they opposed implementing a statewide hand-count of ballots instead of a machine count.

___

The AP is answering your questions about elections in this series. Submit them at: FactCheck@AP.org.

What happens if a ballot is damaged or improperly marked?

How do states ensure dead people’s ballots aren’t counted?

Can noncitizens vote in U.S. elections?

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

moore redmond washington...

Associated Press

U.S. Supreme Court rules against Redmond couple challenging foreign income tax

The court ruled in the case of Charles and Kathleen Moore, of Redmond, Washington after they previously challenged a $15,000 tax bill.

5 days ago

Image:The New York Giants' Willie Mays poses for a photo during baseball spring training in 1972. M...

Associated Press

Willie Mays, Giants’ electrifying ‘Say Hey Kid,’ dies at 93

Willie Mays, whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball’s greatest players, has died. He was 93.

6 days ago

Image: This photo provided by the Washington Department of Ecology shows a derailed BNSF train on t...

Associated Press

Judge orders BNSF to pay Washington tribe nearly $400M for trespassing with oil trains

BNSF Railway must pay the sum to a Native American tribe in Washington after it ran 100-car trains with crude oil on the tribe's reservation.

8 days ago

Photo: In this photo provided by Tieanna Joseph Cade, an amusement park ride is shown stuck with 30...

Associated Press

Crews rescue 28 people trapped upside down high on Oregon amusement park ride

Emergency crews in Oregon rescued 28 people after they were stuck dangling upside down high on a ride at a century-old amusement park.

8 days ago

juneteenth shooting texas...

Associated Press

2 killed and 6 wounded in shooting during a Juneteenth celebration in a Texas park

A shooting in a Texas park left two people dead and six wounded, including two children, on Saturday, authorities said.

9 days ago

Photo: Israeli soldiers drive a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, Wednesday, J...

Jack Jeffery, The Associated Press

8 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Gaza in deadliest attack on Israeli forces in months

An explosion in Gaza killed eight Israeli soldiers, the military said Saturday, making it the deadliest attack on Israeli forces in months.

9 days ago

Why do election experts oppose hand-counting ballots?