By Patrick Colbeck

Growing up, many kids have played the game “Telephone”. In Telephone, kids form a circle. Then, one of the kids whispers a message into the ear of the kid next to him or her. Then that kid proceeds to whisper the message into the ear of another kids and so on until the “original” message finally reaches the kid who started the “telephone call”. If the message that the originator hears after the messages has been passed around the circle is the same one they initiated, the kids were successful in maintaining the integrity of the message.

In order to maintain the integrity of any election, we need to execute an adult version of telephone involving the maintenance of an Election Chain of Custody.

What is an Election Chain of Custody?

In order to execute elections with integrity, there are many links in the chain of custody. I’ve put together a rough sequence of these links in the following diagram.

Election Chain of Custody

If the integrity of any one of these links is broken, the integrity of every link downstream of that breakage is compromised.

How is Chain of Custody maintained?

  1. Taking notes, including documentation of the recovery location, the time and date recovered or received, description of the item, condition of the item and any unusual markings on or alterations to the item.
  2. Marking and packaging the evidence.
  3. Sealing the evidence.
  4. Preparing the chain-of-custody record.

SOURCE: National Forensic Science Technology Center

Why is Chain of Custody important in an election?

The same reason Chain of Custody is important in criminal trials. The purpose of a Chain of Custody is to ensure that no one tampers with election artifacts in a manner that subverts the integrity of the election process. If any single link is broken in the chain of custody, the integrity of the entire election is broken resulting in no public confidence in the election results.

How is an Election Chain of Custody Broken?

The following table provides several ways in which individual links within the chain of custody for an election can be broken. It is not a comprehensive list, but it should provide important insights into how the chain of custody might be compromised if proper safeguards are not taken.

IDLinkHow Broken
1Qualified Voter FileFailure to remove deceased voters
Failure to remove voters who have moved
Failure to capture sufficient information to verify identity of voter
Opening the database up to 3rd party data entry (e.g. Rock the Vote)
Failure to track modifications to the Qualified Voter File
Failure to save snapshot of database for election day
2Poll Book (Precinct-specific extract of Qualified Voter File)Enabling poll workers to add voters directly into poll book on election day
Lax identity verification protocols regarding same day voter registration
Failure to track modifications to the Poll Book
Failure to seal poll book at end of election day operations
3Ballot EnvelopeNo signature
Lax signature verification protocols
No match with poll book ballot number
Failure to maintain a seal on ballot envelope container at end of election day operations
4BallotDiscarding ballots
Adding new ballots without verifying identity of voters
Failure to have representatives of both parties present when votes are transferred from a damaged or incompatible ballot format (e.g. military ballots) to one compatible with tabulation scanner
Failure to maintain a seal on the ballot box at end of election day operations
5Ballot TabulatorFailure to perform robust public accuracy test
Failure to demonstrate Zero report at start of election day tabulation
Failure to print out precinct tapes at end of election day operations
Failure to discard misfeeds and update poll book entries accordingly
Tabulator connected to internet or local area network featuring workstations able to adjust vote tally
Failure to secure the tabulator memory card containing images of scanned ballots at end of election day operations
Failure to secure at end of election day operations
6Ballot AdjudicatorAdjudicator connected to the internet or local area network featuring workstations able to adjust vote tally
Failure to ensure adjudication is overseen by representatives of all parties
Failure to secure at end of election day operations
7Precinct Statement of VotesElectronic transfer of data over the internet or Wi-Fi network
Failure to secure data transfer media (e.g. flash drive) in a sealed package prior to transfer
8County Statement of VotesFailure to inspect seal containing precinct artifacts
Failure to seal county package for transportation to state
Data entry errors into county election results
Electronic transfer of data over the internet or Wi-Fi network
9State Statement of VotesFailure to inspect seal containing county artifacts
Data entry errors into state election results database
10Electoral VotesBrokered convention
11Absentee Voter ApplicationDistribution of AV Applications to ineligible voters (~20% of Qualified Voter File ineligible)
Collection of AV Applications by third parties willing to distribute to people willing to commit election fraud
Failure to update poll book with absentee ballot number
12Absentee BallotBallot harvesting
Ballots deposited in unsecured container (e.g. drop boxes)
Ballots not secured within Clerk’s office
Ballots not secured during transfer from voter to Clerk’s Office
Ballots not secured during transfer from Clerk’s office to AV Counting Board
Election Chain of Custody Links

If any single link is broken, the integrity of all election artifacts downstream of that artifact is broken including the all important election results.

In the State of Michigan, the chain of custody was clearly broken in multiple places as documented in over 200 signed affidavits. I observed first hand a complete disregard for Chain of Custody at the Detroit Absentee Voter Counting Board.

What Can We Do If Broken?

The following table provides a list of options which can be taken once a link in the chain of custody has been broken.

ActionProsCons
IgnoreNo EffortNo public confidence in election results
RecountEasyDoes not address any attempts to subvert election integrity upstream of “Ballot” artifact (Item 4)
RevoteLikely to ensure integrity of the election if broken links are repaired prior to revoteLabor intensive and likely to delay election results significantly
AuditIt should identify corrective actions necessaryMay not be allowed to change the results of the election
Legislative ActionMitigates need for expensive revoteDoes not instill public confidence in results of election
Broken Link Repair Options

2020 Election Summary

The 2020 Election features thousands of affidavits asserting that links in election integrity were broken all across the battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Humpty Dumpty lies broken in the wake of the 2020 election. What remains to be seen is if Americans have the determination required to put Humpty Dumpty back together again…before the election results have been finalized.

REFERENCE:

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Shannon
Shannon
9 days ago

Thanks for this clear explanation of the process. A shame the national press does not provide this kind of clarity. But that’s why sites like Let’s Fix Stuff are springing up to fill the knowledge and integrity gap. Happy to support you and spread this important information.

Ashley
Ashley
6 days ago

#Imaprouddeplorable

Last edited 6 days ago by Ashley
Ashley
Ashley
6 days ago

#imaprouddeplorable

BarryD
BarryD
6 days ago

Great summary Patrick. It demonstrates the many points of potential failure/breakdown, and the actual flow when extrapolated with many more touch points for mail in voting really tells an important story. The more ballot touch points, the more opportunity for both accidental and nefarious errors/disenfranchisement. Ballot and vote count tampering can be spread across multiple touch points without sufficient controls…not too mention the impact of software impacts. Keep up the fine work, always let us know how we can help.

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