Risk-Limiting Audits

Why should we have audits?

We know that any election can have problems, caused by the voting system itself and/or simple human error. Machines can misinterpret results, or be subject to hacking or fraud. Voters can mismark ballots or election officials can transpose numbers.  We can never know if, how or to what extent errors have happened—and whether they affected election results—unless we look.

What is a Risk-Limiting Audit (RLA)?

The RLA, when used with a voter-marked, paper-ballot system, was designed by statisticians to be the most useful tool to determine if our elections are accurate. Compared to other types of audits, it’s easy and efficient to conduct, it’s statistically tailored for each election, and costs less because much fewer number of ballots need to be counted to assure a high degree of accuracy.

Close elections require you to sample more ballots than elections won by a large margin, and choosing a higher chance of spotting an incorrect result similarly means counting more ballots. But in nearly all cases, a risk-limiting audit can be performed by hand-counting a much smaller number of ballots than a full recount.

It also means that auditing can become a routine part of every election, which means that states and counties will become more skilled at performing the audits, which means they are more likely to spot problems, from mundane system errors to deliberate hacking.

If you’d like to learn more about how RLAs work and their multiple benefits, we recommend this comprehensive report, “Risk-Limiting Post-Election Audits: Why and How,” written by renowned computer scientists and election integrity activists.

Colorado becomes first state to require regularly conducted RLAs.

Excerpts from a very informative article about what Colorado is doing, and what we need to push for along with our VMPB system:

Rhode Island is coming on board with state-wide RLAs, too:

 “If a voting system has been maliciously altered in some way, [this audit] should give the public great assurance that we are going to know that, and we will adjust the result accordingly,” Dwight Shellman, county support manager in the Colorado elections office and the official helping to coordinate the new auditing process.

“Colorado's use of paper ballots and risk-limit audits empowers the state to detect and correct any vote-changing cyberattacks, without relying on the Federal government or the intelligence community,” [J. Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan] said in an email.

Security experts have warned Congress that without paper audit trails, states are vulnerable to invisible election tampering because votes cannot be reliably audited. A coalition of experts recently urged lawmakers to give states money to upgrade their technology so they can adopt the necessary procedures.

 

Colorado will publish its auditing software under a free license so other states can download and modify it for their own use.

“In this era where everybody is so much more aware of cybersecurity concerns and threats than they used to be, people are going to start asking the question, ‘How do we know that our votes were counted correctly? Anyone have an answer to that?’” said Singer. “And Colorado is going to have an answer to that because of these audits, and they’re going to have it in a way that is cost-effective.”

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