Voting Blogs: Pilots of risk-limiting election audits in California and Virginia | Andrew Appel/Freedom to Tinker
Orange County, CA Pilot Risk-Limiting Audit, by Stephanie Singer and Neal McBurnett, Verified Voting Foundation, December 2018.
City of Fairfax,VA Pilot Risk-Limiting Audit, by Mark Lindeman, Verified Voting Foundation, December 2018.
In order to run trustworthy elections using hackable computers (including hackable voting machines), “elections should be conducted with human-readable paper ballots. … States should mandate risk-limiting audits prior to the certification of election results.”
What is a risk-limiting audit, and how do you perform one? An RLA is a human inspection of a random sample of the paper ballots (or batches of ballots)—using a scientific method that guarantees with high confidence that if the voting machines claimed the wrong winner, then the audit will declare, “I cannot confirm this election,” in which case a by-hand recount is appropriate. This is protection against voting-machine miscalibration, or against fraudulent hacks of the voting machines.
That’s what it is, but how do you do it? RLAs require not only a statistical design, but a practical plan for selecting hundreds of ballots from among millions of sheets of paper. It’s an administrative process as much as it is an algorithm.
In 2018, RLAs were performed by the state of Colorado. In addition, two just-published reports describe pilot RLAs performed by Orange County, California and Fairfax, Virginia. From these reports (and from the audits they describe) we can learn a lot about how RLAs work in practice.