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I am a techie with a degree in Electrical Engineering, so I am fascinated with the technical aspects of things. Most recently that interest has focused on the Election drama. One particular aspect which seems to be misunderstood is the value of recounts. I am going to lay out a few scenarios in an attempt to illustrate how it works in simple terms. Please don’t skip ahead and follow along in sequence as my election volunteer so you can get the full impact.

Let’s go super simple. We have three voters: Bob, Sue, and Nancy. We have two candidates X and O.

You have the three ballots sitting at your counting table:

X X O
X X O

The results are: X — 2, O — 1, X Wins, right?

Further, there were 3 voters, and 3 ballots so we are looking good.

O demands a recount. Ok, now we need to do a recount.

X X O
X X O

Go ahead and count the ballots again. Same results, right?

Congratulations, we just verified that the count was right and there were no issues with this election, right?

Well….

I actually contacted Bob, Sue, and Nancy to find out who they voted for. They were worried about voting so they videoed on their phones voting and showed me the footage.

Bob voted for X, Sue voted for O, and Nancy voted for O. Wait, what happened? You and I counted the votes, we even recounted them, and we even verified that there were the same number of votes as voters. What did we do wrong? We can’t know from the information we have. We only know that the results are wrong. Should we do another recount? No, that will give us the same result, because it is the same ballots. The problem is NOT the counting, nor the recount, but an erroneous ballot amongst the three.

One plausible and legitimate cause could be that there was a fourth ballot from Jim that was invalid because he was only 17, but when his was excluded they excluded the wrong one. Don’t think that was what happened? Insert your own explanation here. The point is…

Was the recount valuable? No, it wasn’t. Why not? Because the data brought in, the ballots were faulty. There is a saying in Computer Science: Garbage in, garbage out. The results of tabulated data are only valid if the data is valid. Consider this when you hear election officials saying that the recount proves the election results were correct.

I am the co-founder of Moptu and a programmer, science geek, and Pokemon GO trainer.

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