risk-limiting audit

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Media Release: To Enhance Election Security, Rhode Island Tests A New Way to Verify Election Results

Aurora Matthews, New Heights Communications, aurora@newheightscommunications.com, (301)221-7984

PROVIDENCE, RI – Rhode Island is making good on its promise to road-test risk-limiting election audits, following 2017 passage of legislation by the Rhode Island General Assembly, requiring them. Beginning with the presidential primary in April 2020, Rhode Island will become the second state to require these audits to verify election results. A “risk limiting” audit checks if the election result is correct. Specifically it checks the counting of the votes. A “risk-limiting” audit limits the risk that the wrong election result will be certified. It can catch errors which change the result and correct a wrong result.

For more background on the legislation, visit here: https://www.commoncause.org/democracy-wire/rhode-island-adopts-risk-limiting-election-audits/ and here: http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText17/HouseText17/H5704.pdf

To prepare for next year’s full implementation, the Rhode Island Board of Elections will conduct three pilot audits on January 16 and 17 at 50 Branch Avenue in Providence, Rhode Island beginning at 9:30 a.m. These pilot audits will be conducted with local election officials from Bristol, Cranston and Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

The purpose is to test three different methods for conducting risk-limiting audits. A variety of tasks will be conducted over two days, including hand tabulation of a sample of ballots. For purposes of planning future audits a time and measurement study will be conducted over the two days.

Rhode Island will demonstrate three types of audits:

  • Ballot-level comparison audit for Bristol precincts: This method A ballot-level comparison audit is an audit that is similar to checking an expense report. First the audit checks that the subtotals add up to the reported totals. And then individual ballots are checked against how they are recorded by the machine – similar to checking receipts against numbers in a spreadsheet.
  • Batch-level comparison audit for Cranston precincts: This method will check a random sample of ballot “batches” and compare the total vote count of those batches against the voting machine’s count. A batch will consist of between 250-300 ballots.
  • Ballot-level polling audit for Portsmouth precincts: This method will check a random sample of ballots with the reported outcome, not against the voting machine’s record of those votes. This is comparable to an exit poll. But instead of using the voters’ responses to questions, it checks marking of the actual ballots. Enough ballots are sampled to give election officials confidence that the outcome is correct.

“We strongly support the Rhode Island Board of Election’s piloting risk-limiting audits as they prepare for full implementation of our law in 2020. Given recent threats to US cybersecurity, risk-limiting audits help conduct accurate, fair elections, strengthening voter confidence in election results,” said John Marion, Executive Director of Common Cause Rhode Island. “We hope many other US states will follow Rhode Island’s example,” he added

“Rhode Island’s Board of Elections’ risk-limiting audit pilot is a critical step toward safeguarding our elections. Paper ballots, marked by hand or device, are the essential ingredient for ensuring that jurisdictions can recover from errors or tampering. Paper ballots coupled with routine risk-limiting audits are the best way to detect whether the software reported the election results accurately,” said Marian K. Schneider, president of Verified Voting.

“Rhode Island is helping lead the nation toward the future of election administration and election security by piloting risk-limiting audits,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “They are the gold-standard in post-election checks, and implementing them across the country is essential to catching problems with vote tallies and ensuring voter confidence. The pilots offer a great learning opportunity for officials and advocates alike, and they will help improve RLA processes as these audits become more widespread.”

National: New technologies could actually eliminate common voting controversies in the U.S. | Salon

As voting in 2018’s midterms ends on Tuesday, November 6, there will be contests with surprising results, races separated by the slimmest of margins, or even ties. How will voters know what to believe without falling prey to partisan angst and conspiracies? What if, as Dean Logan, Los Angeles County’s voting chief, retweeted this week, “the weakest link in election security is confidence”in the reported results? The factual answers lie in the voting system technology used and the transparency — or its lack — in the vote counting, count auditing and recount process. These steps all fall before outcomes are certified and the election is legally over. … In the past decade, two differing approaches to answering that question have emerged and evolved. The first to surface is what’s called a risk-limiting audit (RLA). Jerome Lovato, now an election technology specialist with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, was present at the start of developing and implementing RLAs a decade ago when Colorado hired him to improve their audit process. Colorado had been sued for a lack of transparency surrounding its testing and certification after buying new machines in 2006. Back then, Colorado — like many states today — grabbed and examined hundreds of ballots after every election to see if they matched the announced winners. Read More

National: Democrats unveil push to secure state voting systems | The Hill

A group of Democratic senators is introducing a bill aimed at securing U.S. elections from hacking efforts, the latest response to attempted Russian interference in the 2016 presidential vote. The bill introduced Tuesday is specifically designed to ensure the integrity of and bolster confidence in the federal vote count. It would require state and local governments to take two steps to ensure that votes are counted correctly. Under the legislation, states would have to use voting systems that use voter-verified paper ballots that could be audited in the event a result is called into question. State and local officials would also be required to implement what are known as “risk-limiting audits” — a method that verifies election outcomes by comparing a random sample of paper ballots with their corresponding digital versions — for all federal elections. Read More

Colorado: State pioneers voting safeguard | Grand Junction Sentinel

Colorado became the first state in the nation after this month’s election to complete a “risk-limiting” audit, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Such an audit, ordered by the Colorado Legislature in 2009, is a procedure designed to provide statistical evidence that the election outcome is correct, and has a higher-than-normal probability of correcting a wrong outcome. Risk-limiting audits require human beings to examine and verify more ballots in close races, and fewer ballots in races with wide margins. “Colorado is a national leader in exploring innovative solutions for accessible, secure and auditable elections,” said Matt Masterson, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, who witnessed the audit. “Colorado’s risk-limiting audit provided great insights into how to conduct more efficient and effective post-election audits. (The commission) is eager to share some of the lessons learned with election officials across America.” Read More

Colorado: State embarks on a first-of-its-kind election audit that’s drawing interest from out of state | The Denver Post

Colorado is embarking on a first-of-its-kind, statewide election audit that seeks to validate the accuracy of the state’s ballot-counting machines amid national concern about election integrity. The so-called risk-limiting audit involves a manual recount of a sample of ballots from 56 counties that had elections this year to compare them with how they were interpreted by tabulating machines. The exercise is drawing observers from Rhode Island, as well as top federal voting-oversight officials. “It’s a huge deal in the election world,” said Lynn Bartels, spokeswoman for the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, which is implementing the audit. Read More

National: States ramping up defenses against election hacks | The Hill

States across the nation are ramping up their digital defenses to prevent the hacking of election systems in 2018. The efforts come in the wake of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, which state officials say was a needed wake up call on cybersecurity threats to election systems and infrastructure. … Security experts are still divided over the extent of hacking risks to actual voting machines. Some say that because many different voting machines are used across the country and because they are not connected to the internet, that would make any large scale attack hard to carry out. … But others contend that digital voting machines are vulnerable and could be targeted to influence actual election outcomes. “Some election functions are actually quite centralized,” Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer science professor, told the Senate Intelligence Committee in June. “A small number of election technology vendors and support contractors service the systems used by many local governments. Attackers could target one or a few of these companies and spread malicious code to election equipment that serves millions of voters.” Read More

Colorado: State to require advanced post-election audits | Politco

Colorado on Monday said it will become the first state to regularly conduct a sophisticated post-election audit that cybersecurity experts have long called necessary for ensuring hackers aren’t meddling with vote tallies. The procedure — known as a “risk-limiting” audit — allows officials to double-check a sample of paper ballots against digital tallies to determine whether results were tabulated correctly. The election security firm Free & Fair will design the auditing software for Colorado, and the state will make the technology available for other states to modify for their own use. The audit will allow Colorado to say, “with a high level of statistical probability that has never existed before,” that official election results have not been manipulated, said Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams in a statement. Read More

Colorado: State hires startup to help audit digital election results | The Hill

The state of Colorado is moving to audit future digital election results, hiring a Portland-based startup to develop software to help ensure that electronic vote tallies are accurate. The startup Free & Fair announced on Monday that it had been selected by the state to develop a software system for state and local election officials to conduct what are called “risk-limiting audits.” A risk-limiting audit, or RLA, is a method that checks election outcomes by comparing a random sample of paper ballots to the accompanying digital versions. The development comes amid deepening fears on Capitol Hill about the possibility of foreign interference in future elections, following Russia’s use of cyberattacks and disinformation to influence the 2016 presidential election. According to the U.S. intelligence community, Moscow’s efforts also included targeting state and local election systems. Read More

National: How Applied Mathematics Could Help Democracy | The Atlantic

American voting relies heavily on technology. Voting machines and ballot counters have sped up the formerly tedious process of counting votes. Yet long-standing research shows that these technologies are susceptible to errors and manipulation that could elect the wrong person. In the 2016 presidential election, those concerns made their way into public consciousness, worrying both sides of the political fence. The uncertainty led to a set of last-minute, expensive state recounts—most of which were incomplete or blocked by courts. But we could ensure that all elections are fair and accurate with one simple low-tech fix: risk-limiting audits. Risk-limiting audits are specific to elections, but they are very similar to the audits that are routinely required of corporate America. Under them, a random sample of ballots is chosen and then hand-counted. That sample, plus a little applied math, can tell us whether the machines picked the right winner. Read More

Voting Blogs: Voting with Risk-Limiting Audits: Better, Faster, Cheaper | EFF

After extensive ups and downs, the election recount efforts in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania have concluded. The main lesson: ballot audits should be less exciting and less expensive. Specifically, we need to make audits an ordinary, non-partisan part of every election, done efficiently and quickly, so they are not subject to emergency fundraising and last-minute debates over their legitimacy. The way to do that is clear: make risk-limiting audits part of standard election procedure. After this year’s election, EFF joined many election security researchers in calling for a recount of votes in three key states. This was partly because of evidence that hackers affected other parts of the election (not directly related to voting machines). But more than that, it was based long-standing research showing that electronic voting machines and optical scanners are subject to errors and manipulation that could sway an election. In response to that call, Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s campaign raised more than $7 million to fund the recounts. Read More