State Audit Laws Searchable Database

State Audit Laws - California

This information was updated in October, 2014 and reviewed in March 2017.

State Summary:

Signed into law in 1965, California's audit law calls for every contest and ballot issue on the ballot to be audited by means of a hand count of 1% of the precincts in each jurisdiction. There is no statutory guidance for expanding the audit or binding audit results on official results. California's audit provisions are found at California Election Code, §336.5, "One Percent Manual Tally," §15360.

The  Secretary of State's Office conducted a pilot program from 2011 to 2013 to develop and test post-election risk-limiting audit methods in California. Read more about the program here.


No statutory guidance allowing observers to verify ballot marks
Statutes require that audit results and data be made public
Statutes specify that audits must be conducted publicly

The law regarding audits states that "the manual tally shall be a public process," and that advance public notice of the time and location of both the audit and the selection of the audit sample be given. However, there is no mention made in the law regarding the ability of any observers to verify ballot marks. See California Election Code, §336.5, "One Percent Manual Tally," §15360, Subsection (d).

The manual audit report is to be included in the certification report, which is filed with the Secretary of State and posted online here. See California Election Code, §336.5, §15360, Subsection (e), as well as §15500 - 155505, Chapter 7, "Duties of the Secretary of State".

Voting Systems Used:

Mixed paper ballot and DREs with VVPAT

Precinct-count optical scanners are used as the primary voting system in most counties. Two use DREs with VVPAT. Some counties provides DREs for accessibility while most use ballot marking devices. For details visit the California page on The Verifier.


No statutory guidance whether audit results are binding on official results

Addressing Discrepancies and Continuing the Audit:

No statutory guidance for expanding the audit

While the official conducting the audit is charged with writing a report to describe any discrepancies, no further action or auditing is required.

Audit Comprehensiveness:

Absentee ballots included in audit
Early voted ballots included in audit

California Election Code, §336.5, §15630, Subsection (a) states that "vote by mail voters' ballots" are included in the audit. Early voted ballots are included in the audit, as early voted ballots are either vote by mail (absentee) ballots or ballots cast on a direct recording electronic voting system. Subsection (b) clarifies that ballots cast "on a direct recording electronic voting system at the office of an elections official or at a satellite location," are to be included in the audit.

Additional Targeted Samples:

Election officials may choose additional targeted samples

California Election Code, §336.5, §15360, Subsection (a), states that "Additional precincts for the manual tally may be selected at the discretion of the elections official."

Contests and Issues Audited:

Every contest and ballot issue voted on the ballot is audited
Federal election contests audited
Local election contests audited
Primary elections audited
Statewide election contests audited

See California Election Code, §336.5, §15360, Subsection (a).

Type of Audit Units:


California Election Code, §336.5, §15360, Subsection (a), specifies that the audit will be of the ballots cast in one percent of randomly selected precincts, or one precinct in each county, whichever is greater. It also clarifies that election officials shall, "for each race not included in the initial group of precincts, count one additional precinct," so that at least one precinct of every contest on the ballot is hand counted.

While the 1% audit sample is usually by precinct, Section 15360, Subsection (b) provides an alternative type of audit unit for ballots cast on a direct recording electronic voting system (DRE). Subsection (b) provides that a hand count of the ballots cast on 1% of the DRE machines used in the election meets the 1% audit law, with regard to the ballots cast on DRE machines.

Counting Method:

Hand count

The audit law in California is described as a "one percent manual tally." See California Election Code, §336.5, §15360, Subsection (a).

Oversight and Conduct of Audit: California Election Code, §336.5, §15360 states that audits are to be conducted by local election officials. As chief elections official, the Secretary of State has oversight over the entire elections process, including election audits. The random selection of the precincts to be audited is conducted in each individual county.

Timeline for Audit: The audit must be conducted "during the canvass" (see California Election Code, §336.5, §15360, Subsection (a)), and a report of the audit must be included in the "certification of the official canvass" (see California Election Code, §336.5, §15360, Subsection (e)), which occurs 28 days after election day in California.
The public must also be given at least five days advance notice of the audit. See California Election Code, §336.5, §15360, Subsection (d).

Additional Resources:

California Secretary of State
California Code Division 15 - Canvass and Recounts (2016)
California Secretary of State Twitter Feed
Post Election Risk-Limiting Audit Pilot Program (2011-2013)
Implementing Risk-Limiting Post-Election Audits in California (2009)