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Audits Find Few Errors In Ohio 2020 Vote Counts

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine checks in to vote at the Cedarland Event Center in Cedarville on Election Day 2020. [Karen Kasler / ideastream]
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine checks in to vote at the Cedarland Event Center in Cedarville, after waiting in line to vote on Election Day.

Post-election audits found vanishingly few errors in November’s vote counts across Ohio, according to data released by Secretary of State Frank LaRose on Tuesday.

Since November, county election staff have recounted ballots by hand in a selection of precincts, focusing on three races: the presidential race, one Ohio Supreme Court race and a countywide race.

In the presidential contest, the audits matched official results by 99.98 percent on average.

In counties using Dominion electronic voting machines – which have become magnets for conspiracy theories amplified by President Donald Trump, nationwide – the audits lined up with official results 99.99 percent of the time. 

“We are very confident in the Dominion product,” said Julie Leathers Stahl, the Republican board of elections director in Wayne County, one of 11 Ohio counties to use that brand of machine in November.

Dominion machines are known as “direct recording electronic” devices, meaning voters make their choices on a touch screen that saves the votes digitally. But the machines also record the votes on a roll of paper, known as the “voter verified paper audit trail.”

“The votes are recorded on a USB drive, but they’re saved internally, so you can get in through the tablet to get it, plus then you have this paper trail,” Stahl said. “So if something would happen, we have three different ways of getting the votes.”

Voters can check that piece of paper to be sure they marked their ballots correctly. During audits, bipartisan election staff unroll those papers and count a selection of votes by hand.

Wayne County’s audit came up two votes short from the official presidential numbers, undercounting Trump and President-elect Joe Biden’s vote totals each by one. Stahl attributed that to human error during the audit itself, not to the machines.

That slight discrepancy was within the margin of error allowed by the state. Plus, it didn’t threaten the results in a race with razor-thin margins. So election workers didn’t have to redo the audit and search for the two votes they’d missed, Stahl said.

“Had it been a close race, we would have been right back in there doing it all again until we found it,” she said.

Election staff in Ashland County, which does not use touch screens, discovered four paper ballots were scanned as blank because voters didn’t mark them properly, Board of Elections Director Shannon Johnson, a Democrat, said.

One voter marked a ballot in red ink. Another filled in the bubbles too faintly. Two others marked their ballots in ways that didn’t register with the tabulation machines.

“The tabulation equipment did record the votes as it saw them on the ballot,” Johnson said. “However, when you manually went through them and you looked at each one of them, you could see the voter intent.”

Johnson presented the audit findings to board members, who added those numbers to the official count, she said.

Trump won Ohio by 8 points, carrying all 11 counties that used Dominion electronic machines. The president and his allies have attacked the use of those machines in states like Georgia, circulating conspiracy theories that prompted threats of defamation lawsuits from Dominion.

That atmosphere of doubt found its way into Ohio. After Wayne County Board of Election members received calls and emails from voters worried about Dominion voting machines, Stahl went to the local newspaper, the Daily Record, to clear the air.

Even though election staff have political views and party affiliations, they conduct their work in a bipartisan way, Stahl said.

“I know for certain that, at least in the state of Ohio, that a group of Republicans and a group of Democrats walk into a board of elections office every day,” she said, “and they hang up their political hats.”

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.