How elections board is tackling its large audit backlog

From Amy Strange, deputy director for campaign finance and operations at the state Board of Elections, in response to “Feds eye Cannon’s campaign in probe” (April 13):

The Observer’s story refers to the backlog of campaign finance reports awaiting audits by the State Board of Elections. Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina is quoted as saying that “They say they want to do reviews, but they don’t.” I would like to correct any false impression among your readers that our agency does not audit campaign finance reports.

The State Board receives 8,000-10,000 reports in general election years and half that in odd-numbered years. Some contain only a few financial transactions and others contain thousands. The State Board maintains a staff of five auditors who review an average of 2,200 reports every year, or 183 reports every month. Any implication that our agency does not review reports is simply untrue.

Our agency does have a large backlog of reports to audit. Two factors affect the size of our backlog: staff size and technology. Our staff has to audit reports, train treasurers, conduct investigations, advise filers on report preparation and assist the public with data requests. As recently as 2005 we had only four employees performing this important work. To reduce our backlog, the General Assembly in 2006 added eight audit positions and four compliance specialists. However, between 2007 and 2010, three audit positions and one compliance position were cut. Over the past nine months our agency has undergone a needed reorientation, allocating resources to prioritize three key technology efforts that will help eliminate our backlog.

First, we expedited the procurement of technology that scans paper reports and converts the images to data. We have sought this technology for a decade and have finally been authorized to make this purchase. Roughly 70 percent of filers still submit reports on paper. This change will allow us to double the number of audits conducted each year.

Second, we are rewriting auditing software to enable county elections boards to submit local reports into a statewide database. We expect this change to dramatically improve review of report data and to reduce audit time-to-completion.

Third, we are developing new e-reporting software. Our current product is now over 10 years old. E-filings are currently sent as e-mail attachments, which our audit staff must import manually. Our new product will simplify the user interface, enable online report submission, and automate our import process.

These changes have been long in coming, and our agency is excited by the service improvements they will bring. Our auditors are professionals with decades of combined experience auditing campaign finance reports. We take our responsibility to audit reports very seriously, and are committed to allocating resources as efficiently and effectively as possible for the benefit of our state.