Watchdog CPAs Take Action to Secure State Elections

A community of certified public accountants (CPAs) advocates that states adopt auditing techniques used in financial affairs to ensure the integrity of election processes and restore public faith.

Frank Ryan, a retired Marine Reserve Colonel, stated in an interview with the media, “Our aim is to streamline the voting process for eligible voters while making it impossible for ineligible individuals to vote. Furthermore, we want to guarantee that each cast vote is correctly counted.”

Ryan, a CPA himself, retired from his role as a state representative in Pennsylvania to concentrate on election security, believing he could exert a more significant influence on public policy from the outside.

This isn’t Ryan’s first encounter with election security. In 2005, he assisted Iraq in conducting its first open election in years, where a completely new National Assembly was chosen. The unique feature of that year’s election was the use of dye on voters’ fingers to prevent double voting.

Art Werner from Werner-Rocca Seminars, a Philadelphia firm that trains CPAs, underlines that the profession’s role extends beyond arithmetic and tax management. He believes the CPA’s ethical code and the nature of their work equip them with the expertise to enhance election oversight.

CPAs establish systems to prevent fraud and detect instances of fraud or mismanagement, says Werner. “A CPA’s primary role is to interpret the past and design systems that are unbiased, reliable, and result in accurate outcomes. This allows entities like banks to place confidence in the financial reports prepared by CPAs,” Werner said.

He continued that CPAs can design internal systems beyond financial structures that serve the same purpose, including creating a system of internal controls to restore public faith in elections.

Introducing CPA systems to elections across all states could substantially boost the currently needed public trust. Werner commented, “Even if existing systems are working well, any hint of suspicion in the public’s mind can lead to doubt in the election’s fairness. By setting up a transparent and trustworthy system, a CPA can help restore public faith, irrespective of the outcome.”

The Pennsylvania Auditor General’s significant 2019 audit report concerning the Statewide Uniform Registry Electors (SURE) system, managed by the Department of State, drew Ryan’s attention. The report highlighted issues like duplicate and inaccurate voter records, long-pending voter registration applications, and preliminary analysis, leading to data inaccuracies.

Ryan was surprised by the report, produced by a Democrat Auditor General, Eugene DePasquale, for a Democrat-led administration. The statement lamented management’s response to the draft findings, expressing concern about the Department of State’s refusal to acknowledge the data inaccuracies revealed in the SURE system.

Recalling this report after the 2020 election, Ryan, a state representative at that time, attempted to engage several CPA firms for a forensic audit. The response was largely negative, with firms expressing concern over the politically sensitive nature of the task and the potential loss of clients.

Ryan shared the 2019 auditor’s report with his CPA colleagues to explain his involvement. All of them called back, acknowledging the importance of investigating these issues, which, according to Ryan, was a clear act of negligence by CPAs to ignore. Ryan added, “It’s hard to determine the winner of the [2020] election due to the problematic systems.”

The code of conduct for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants emphasizes the duty of professionals to use sensitive professional and moral judgments in all of their operations. The code strongly emphasizes the responsibility to uphold public trust, serve the public interest, and act professionally. Members are expected to act with integrity despite conflicting pressures, keeping the public’s best interest at heart. The code concludes that satisfying the responsibility towards the people best serves the interests of clients and employers.

There is a growing emphasis on the accounting profession’s responsibility to the public, which comprises clients, credit grantors, governments, employers, investors, and the wider business and financial community. They depend on the CPA’s objectivity and integrity to ensure smooth commerce operations. This dependence entrusts CPAs with a public interest responsibility.

The public interest is viewed as the collective welfare of the society and institutions the profession is committed to serving. While balancing their professional responsibilities, CPAs often face conflicting pressures from these diverse groups.

Nevertheless, they are expected to navigate these conflicts with integrity. The guiding principle here is when CPAs fulfill their public responsibility, the best interests of clients and employers are inherently served.

Hence, the group of CPAs, including Ryan, believes their profession’s expertise and code of ethics uniquely position them to address the perceived flaws in the election process and restore public faith. By applying the auditing and accountability standards used in financial affairs to elections, they hope to bring much-needed transparency, accuracy, and integrity.

They contend that the public ought to be able to have confidence in the election process, just as banks rely on CPAs to confirm a company’s financial stability. By designing systems that ensure fairness and prevent fraud, CPAs could increase public trust in the outcomes of elections.