At the close of polls on election night, poll workers have a long list of things to do to close down a polling site. One of those is to print out poll tapes or election results from each voting machine.
Poll tapes usually look like cash register receipts. Sometimes, like in CA, they might be called a “votes cast form.” They contain the vote tallies for every candidate in every race, and for the votes on ballot initiatives. Sometimes there is a tape for each voting machine. Sometimes there is just one tape for all the votes in a location.
In some states, these poll tapes (or votes cast forms) must be posted for the public outside the polling place. (In California, for example, they are required to be posted for 48 hours following an election. See P. 48 of the 2020 Elections Officers Digest.) See laws on poll tapes by state here.
Errors and manipulation of results can happen later in the process, when the votes from the polling location are transferred to an election management system that tallies totals, or when the results are posted to a website.
In 2015, Bennie Smith took a photo of a poll tape in Shelby County Tennessee. When the results were announced, he found that 40% of the votes in this predominantly Black precinct had disappeared. This had occurred in other predominantly Black precincts as well. Read more about it in the Bloomberg investigation that followed. Because there was a photo of the poll tape, the votes were restored, and the election administration changed.
So taking photos or videos of the poll tapes at polling places is a really important tool in election protection. The data on these tapes can be compared to official results to see if any numbers change.
If no discrepancies are found, the public can have greater confidence that there are no errors in this part of the election results.
Volunteers can look up polling locations, take photos and video of poll tapes and also help process and analyze the data.
If you would like to know more, please attend our #ElectionProtection forums every other Tuesday at 7pm ET.
There is also a lot of information about this in #ElectionProtection Episode 8 – What Can I Do?