I have been encountering allegations of vote manipulation in the 2020 presidential election via clerical errors, one large. Although the specific instances were resolved, the general concern remains that simple clerical errors render exact counts inaccurate, and if they're not reliably detected then a political strategy of "count them wrong on purpose" could develop. I'm aware of no evidence for this possibility and would suspect if it were likely we would have devolved into a banana republic decades ago, but I am not aware of how it is avoided.

I am aware of recounts being one such tool, but as they are generally performed only in very close contests, they would be ineffective against larger errors, or a small but distributed error.

I'm also aware that public data theoretically allows citizens to notice oddities. But in practice this seems to generate armchair experts bordering on misinformation. It will also be biased to the supporters that feel most aggrieved.

I've seen this question, but it deals more with the size of the error than the detection of it.

So the core question is: What processes are typically used in elections (of varying size) to guard against clerical error as much as possible?

  • 3
    Unfortunately, this is going to vary on a state-by-state and even county-by-county level. Can you narrow the question down a bit?
    – divibisan
    Nov 6, 2020 at 0:14
  • @divibisan The 2020 swing states, perhaps. But unfortunately the nature of the problem is that if one can only say "no issues in Idaho", it does little to give confidence in Kentucky, and you need some amount of confidence nationwide in a nationwide election. I'm desperately trying to avoid being partisan and deal with any specific cases here. If you can suggest a narrower scope without dealing with a particular (highly partisan) issue, I'm all open for suggestions.
    – ojchase
    Nov 6, 2020 at 0:39
  • Please amplify your "I have been encountering allegations of vote manipulation in the 2020 presidential election via clerical errors, one large." A citation would be nice.
    – BobE
    Nov 6, 2020 at 1:30
  • 2
    @BobE Meh. Linking to Trump's baseless lies wouldn't improve this question. It could be answered even if he wasn't making stuff up. Nov 9, 2020 at 19:56
  • 1
    @BobE Okay fine, take "Trump's" out of my comment. Nov 10, 2020 at 4:21

1 Answer 1


The main process is automation. The vast majority of voting in the US is done by one of three systems: a punch-card ballot, an optical-scan ballot, or an electronic voting machine. In all three systems, vote counting is done by machine, which greatly reduces the possibility of things like calculation errors or transposed digits.

  • 2
    It should also be pointed out that the machines used for "counting" are generally required to be audited, in some states both before and after the election day usage. Auditing is done by passing a packet of a thousand or so reference ballots that have known results. Not only should the machine report the correct reference values, but all machines should produce the same exact result. There is no error allowance.
    – BobE
    Nov 6, 2020 at 1:38

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .