Post Election Audits: What Is A Risk-Limiting Audit (RLA)?

Download Risk Limiting Audit 2-pager (pdf) Today Verified Voting released a guide describing risk-limiting audits, how they are different from other types of audits, and how a risk-limiting audit is conducted. The chart also outlines the elements needed for an RLA to meaningfully support confidence in reported election outcomes. For more information on the types…

National: Election Officials To Convene Amid Historic Focus on Voting And Interference | Pam Fessler/NPR

Top election officials from all 50 states are meeting in Washington this week to prepare for 2020 — a gathering amid widespread concern over whether the upcoming elections will be fair and accurate, as well as free of the kind of foreign interference that marred the 2016 campaign. Despite major government efforts to upgrade security, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that about 41% of Americans surveyed do not think the country is prepared to protect the U.S. election system from another attack. Voters also say their biggest concern is disinformation, followed by voter fraud and voter suppression. Forty-four percent think it’s likely that many votes will not actually be counted in 2020. While most voters have confidence in their state and local governments to run a fair election, 43% do not think those officials have done enough to make sure that there’s no foreign interference. Many more blame President Trump. Fifty-six percent say he has done little or nothing to keep the elections safe. A slim majority think the president, who has repeatedly questioned Russian tampering in 2016, actually encourages foreign interference.

National: It takes too long to detect hacking after elections. Here’s 3 ways to help. | Jeremy Epstein/Fifth Domain

In 33 states in America, millions of voters are still at risk of having their ballots deliberately changed, uncounted, undercounted, misrecorded or otherwise subverted. Why? Simply because these states either permit some form of Internet voting or because one or more parts of their voting processes are connected to the Internet. This should disturb us. What is doubly worrying is the fact that, even if an intrusion is detected in these systems, there is no way to determine with certainty the impact on vote counts from the malicious hacks without paper ballots. There is no paper-based, traceable record of citizens’ votes without paper ballots. This means there is no way to reliably audit the election results. While paper ballots don’t prevent hacks, they can nullify the impacts of hacks because they allow authorities to reliably and accurately recount votes. The ability to retrace elections is critical in many ways: to restore the will of the people by accurately reflecting their votes, and to maintain confidence in our elections and our democracy.

National: FBI breach notice rules lauded by states, but some want more | Derek B. Johnson/FCW

Under a recent policy change, the FBI will notify states if local election systems are hacked, but some state officials and lawmakers want the feds to commit to informing a broader range of stakeholders. The federal government, in particular the FBI, have taken heat for taking three years to notify the Florida state government and members of Congress that voter registration systems in two counties were breached by Russian hackers leading up to the 2016 elections. While U.S. officials have said they do not have any evidence that suggests voting machines or tallies were compromised, security experts say bad actors tampering with registration data can still sow confusion and wreak havoc on election day. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said he and his counterparts in other states spent years pressing the federal government to notify states about local election hacks, arguing that many counties and municipalities lack the technical resources to effectively respond to a breach of their election systems. “They’re not in a position to give any attention to what was going on and to try to correct the issue, and so if [the feds aren’t] contacting us, what’s the value of calling anyone?” he told FCW. “And when we explained that to [the federal government,] they understood.”

National: Nonprofit expands free security services for campaigns as election season heats up | Cat Zakrzewski/The Washington Post

Political campaigns might not have the time or money to seek out tech talent and services in their busiest season, even as concerns loom about election hacking and interference. A political odd couple is trying to change that. Defending Digital Campaigns — founded by Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager, and Matt Rhoades, Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign manager — is offering campaigns a wide range of free and discounted cybersecurity services. The nonprofit organization, which acts as a clearinghouse between campaigns and the companies, announced yesterday that it broadly expanded its industry partners to include tech heavyweights such as Microsoft and Cloudflare. DDC is designed to be a one-stop shop for campaigns to get protections against phishing, websites and mobile app security, multi-factor authentication through security keys, and more. “DDC will create even more value for campaigns by housing a number of these offerings from different companies,” Ginny Badanes, director of Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program, tells me. “We think this will help increase adoption of these services and ultimately make campaigns more secure.” Microsoft is offering its suite of Office and business products for campaigns at a discount. It’s also a more expedient way to ensure campaigns can access their services, especially in a complicated regulatory environment, companies say. DDC secured Federal Election Commission approval to provide campaigns with free or discounted services last year. By partnering with the organization, companies don’t have to seek out individual approvals — a process that can take several months.

Editorials: The loser of November’s election may not concede. Their voters won’t, either. | Richard L. Hasen/The Washington Post

When the polls closed on Nov. 5, 2019, the initial count showed the governor of Kentucky, Republican Matt Bevin, losing to his Democratic challenger, Andy Beshear. But rather than concede that he fell short in what should have been an easy reelection, Bevin claimed that “irregularities” had muddled the result — though he produced no evidence to support his accusations. At first, some Kentucky legislative leaders appeared to back him, and some pointed to the legislature’s power to resolve an election dispute and choose the governor regardless of the vote. But Bevin was not popular even within his own party, and eventually, he had to concede when the local GOP did not go along with him. We could imagine a similar scenario this November: What would happen if President Trump had an early lead that evaporated as votes were counted, and then he refused to concede? The idea isn’t too far-fetched; Trump has raised it himself. Before the 2016 election, he wouldn’t agree to accept the results if he lost. After winning in the electoral college but losing the popular count by about 3 million votes, Trump claimed — with no evidence whatsoever — that at least 3 million fraudulent votes had been cast for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. He set up an “election integrity” commission headed by then-Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach to try to prove that “voter fraud” is a major problem. But after the commission faced attacks from the left and the right for demanding state voter records with an apparent plan to use them to call for stricter registration rules, Trump disbanded it, with no work accomplished. In 2018, the president criticized elections in Florida and California, where late-counted votes shifted toward Democrats, suggesting without evidence that there was foul play.

California: State OKs Los Angeles County’s New Voting Machines — With A Whole Lot Of Caveats (Backup Paper Ballots, For One)| Libby Denkman/LAist

The state of California has given Los Angeles County’s new voting equipment its seal of approval — with some significant caveats. On Friday, Secretary of State Alex Padilla granted conditional certification to the Voting Solutions for All People 2.0 system, including new ‘ballot marking devices’ that the county designed and built from the ground up. It’s making history as the first publicly owned voting system in the U.S. to be certified for widespread use. But the county must meet a stack of requirements before primary election voters get their hands on the machines starting Feb. 22. “Elections officials have a duty to make voting both as secure and as accessible as possible,” Padilla said in a press release. “As part of my certification of VSAP, I am insisting on some essential modifications to the system and requiring on-going reports from Los Angeles County so that we can continue to improve the voting experience for Angelenos.”

California: State OKs highly questioned Los Angeles County voting system | Frank Bajak/Associate Press

California’s secretary of state on Friday approved Los Angeles County’s new publicly owned computerized voting system — a first of its kind for the nation — but is requiring modifications to address serious security and technical problems identified in testing. Secretary of State Alex Padilla is also requiring that all polling stations offer voters the option of using hand-marked paper ballots in the March 3 presidential primary in the nation’s most populous county. His office also notes in a statement on its conditional certification that an estimated 63% of county voters will be voting by mail using hand-marked paper ballots during the primary. Election security experts says all U.S. voters, unless hindered by disabilities, should use hand-marked paper ballots that are available for audits and recounts. Instead, only about 70% do, and elections in the U.S. are dominated by t hree voting equipment and services companies that control nearly 90 percent of the market. Their black-box touchscreen systems have been widely criticized by computer scientists as highly vulnerable to tampering. A subsidiary of one of those companies, Election Systems and Software of Omaha, Nebraska, was blamed by an outside audit for sloppy system integration that left 118,000 names off printed voter roles in Los Angeles County during the 2018 primary.

Iowa: Caucus Voting App Stirs Security Concerns | Alexa Corse/Wall Street Journal

Democrats will record the votes from the Iowa presidential caucuses in just over a week using a smartphone app, a procedure that has stirred questions about security. Party leaders said that the mobile app would make it easier and faster to report results from some 1,700 caucus sites. But critics expressed concern about the reliability of the app amid warnings that cyber adversaries could seek to disrupt the 2020 elections. Douglas Jones, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Iowa, who has studied election security, called the idea a “security nightmare,” and said that cellphones were difficult to protect against the range of possible threats. The caucus workers will use the app on their personal smartphones, which Mr. Jones said could be vulnerable, depending on how well the workers take care of their devices.

Kansas: County, lawmakers battle to make voting easier this year | Dion Lefler/The Wichita Eagle

Sedgwick County is turning to the state Legislature to try to force Secretary of State Scott Schwab to let county voters choose their own polling place in this year’s upcoming elections. A Republican lawmaker has agreed to introduce a bill to let the County Commission change the voting procedure without Schwabb’s blessing. Meanwhile, the top Senate Democrat says he may take Schwab to court in an effort to make him comply with a law passed last year. The law at issue would replace traditional polling places with “voting centers” around the community. Any voter could vote at any voting center, instead of having to go to an assigned polling place on election day. Commissioners and legislators say they think Schwab has dragged his feet on implementing the law. “I’m very frustrated over this thing,” said county Commissioner Jim Howell. “We passed this law last year, we pushed it forward late in the (legislative) session because we wanted to have this ready for the 2020 elections.” “Now here we are eight or nine months later and he hasn’t written any rules and regulations yet. Why?” Schwab says he supports the new law, but crafting the regulations and ensuring necessary cybersecurity precautions is a complicated process that won’t be done in time for this year’s presidential and Senate elections.

Editorials: Counting on technology: Machines can malfunction, and election results ought to be verified | Keene Sentinel

In 17 days, Granite State voters will head to the polls to exercise what is, arguably, their most well-known right and duty: voting in the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire presidential primary. When they do, many will cast votes counted by machine. We hope all will go well. But there’s no guarantee. Absent a campaign-requested recount, there won’t be any verification of the results those machines offer. And that’s because the state’s highest elections officials refuse to allow it. A handful of Monadnock Region residents has been sounding the alarm regarding the vulnerability of voting machines in New Hampshire for several years. And, as noted in a recent report by Sentinel staff writer Jake Lahut, the N.H. Secretary of State’s Office has been refusing to allow local polling officials to even conduct random cross checks by hand. Such hand counts, or audits, could go a long way toward putting voters’ minds at ease regarding the efficacy of the machines upon which so much of our election infrastructure relies. It’s not just a worry for the conspiracy-minded; beyond the idea of Russian or Chinese or, now, perhaps even Iranian hackers gaining access to local or statewide results, there’s the simple question of reliability.

Pennsylvania: Groups challenging voting machine switch gears, counties remain in limbo | Emily Previti/PA Post

More than 2 million voters in three counties will remain in limbo a bit longer after a voting machine lawsuit changed course late Friday. Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson had scheduled a hearing Tuesday over whether the ExpressVote XL should be shelved for Pennsylvania’s nominating contest April 28, while the court fully considered the case. But late Friday afternoon, the plaintiffs withdrew their motion for a preliminary injunction. They say they’ll instead ask the court to fast-track the lawsuit – but not when that might happen. The change follows a hearing Thursday where the Pa. Department of State’s lawyers said a court action intended to be temporary could have permanent effects in this case. If counties buy and implement new voting machines to comply, they wouldn’t be in a position to switch back to the XL if the final decision later upholds the machine’s certification, attorney Michele Hangley said.

Tennessee: Sixth Circuit affirms dismissal of Shelby County voting machine lawsuit | Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian

A federal appeals court has agreed with a Memphis federal court decision tossing out a case seeking to do away with the touchscreen voting machines used in Shelby County elections. The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling released Friday, Jan. 24, affirmed the earlier decision by U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker to dismiss the lawsuit by the group Shelby Advocates for Valid Elections – or SAVE – based on a lack of standing by the plaintiffs. SAVE sued the Shelby County Election Commission, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins. The group has also been pushing the election commission to move away from computers entirely to a system of hand-marked paper ballots that would be run through an optical scanner for tabulating. The election commission is considering a new voting system that could be in place this election year. And election commissioners have looked at voting systems that use a touchscreen machine but include a paper audit trail – a printout for a voter to proofread and then put in a ballot box once they complete the voting process.

Virginia: Months from 2020 election, Virginia updates cybersecurity, voting equipment rules | Max Smith/WTOP

Virginia elections officials are taking new cybersecurity steps as part of new voting-equipment policies ahead of the 2020 presidential election. More significant security measures are planned starting in 2021. Under new plans for voting systems and electronic poll books that are set to be adopted by the State Board of Elections next week, the companies that make voting machines and the check-in systems used by local elections officials in the state will update all existing software to at least meet 2015 standards. “In order to ensure equipment security during the 2020 November Presidential election, the Department has worked with the election vendor community to develop an implementation plan to upgrade localities to standardized versions of equipment,” said briefing documents for the board. The transition plan is meant to keep costs and a last-minute rush by localities to a minimum. The Democratic presidential primary is March 3. There are town elections in May, followed by the congressional primaries in June and the general election in November.

Washington: Voting by Phone Gets a Big Test, but There Are Concerns | Emily S. Rueb/The New York Times

More than a million registered voters in the Seattle area can now cast a ballot for an obscure election using a smartphone or computer. Organizers are calling the pilot program the largest mobile voting effort in the country. Julie Wise, the director of elections in King County, said the election would be “a key step in moving toward electronic access” for voters across the region, in a statement released on Wednesday from Tusk Philanthropies, the nonprofit partnering with the county’s board of elections. The vote in King County, Wash., which includes Seattle, will fill an open spot on the board of the King Conservation District, an agency that manages natural resources. Beginning this week, eligible voters will be able to use a smartphone or computer to log into a portal created by Democracy Live, a Seattle-based company that receives government funding. “There’s no special app, there’s no electronic storage of votes. Instead a voter’s choice is recorded onto a PDF, which they then verify before submission,” Ms. Wise said in an email on Thursday. Once the ballots are received, the board will follow the same processing protocols that are used for mail-in ballots, she added.

West Virginia: Bill To Allow Internet Voting For West Virginians With Disabilities Passes Legislature | West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The West Virginia House of Delegates has passed a bill that would allow voters with certain disabilities to vote electronically in the upcoming election.  Senate Bill 94 will provide West Virginians with disabilities the same electronic voting ability the West Virginia Secretary of State allowed for overseas military members in 2018. It’s the first bill both chambers of the Legislature have voted on this year. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for final approval. Donald Kersey, general counsel to the Secretary of State’s office, said Thursday qualifying voters will know within a month what kind of electronic voting methods will be available to them, assuming Gov. Jim Justice signs the bill. He said because Tusk-Montgomery Philanthropies, a mobile voting advocacy group, has offered to pay for the associated equipment, implementing the bill won’t cost anything to the state or the counties responsible for offering and collecting the ballots. The same group covered mobile voting costs in the last election.