For many advocating a recount in Wisconsin, a primary concern is that computers were involved in counting at least some of the ballots. In 2016, 90 percent of all votes were cast in municipalities that used computerized optical scanners to count votes. It seems obvious that we should be more skeptical of machines that count ballots than humans who count ballots. But the evidence suggests that machines actually do a better job.
Duh! How, and to whom, would it ever “seem obvious that we should be more skeptical of machines that count ballots than humans” who do it? It’s not obvious. In fact, the reverse is obvious.
Let’s see: would you rather add up a list of numbers by hand, use a hand calculator and a pencil, or use a spreadsheet? Would you rather have a computer fly the jet you’re riding in or have the pilots hand-fly the entire six hours?
Here’s another one. Would you rather have your doctor diagnose you, or use a computer? Soon, we’ll be asking, would you rather drive yourself or have a computer do it?
Have the writers and editors at WaPo discovered yet that the entire reason computers were first invented was to help count people in the U.S. census?
Of course computers are more accurate counting votes than humans.
When we analyzed the 2011 Wisconsin recount, we found that the average discrepancy for scanner-counted paper ballots was 0.17 percent, compared with 0.28 percent for hand-counted paper. In other words, both methods are highly accurate, but scanners are slightly more so.
The biggest problem with counting votes is people. Figures are transposed when taken from the (highly secure and generally unplugged from any network) voting machines and written by hand on tally sheets. These are human errors. The chance of human error increases geometrically when machines are taken out of the loop so humans can hand sort through paper ballots sitting at a table.
At the end of all the silly lawsuits and recounts, here’s what the geniuses at WaPo have provided for us.
We should expect three things: the recount will discover only small discrepancies between the election night totals; both methods of counting ballots — hand and scanners — will prove highly accurate; and scanners will be more accurate than humans.
It only took them four college professors from schools like Harvard, MIT, Caltech, and the University of Wisconsin to tell us that.