Colorado Post-Election Risk-Limiting Audit

Earlier this month, the state of Colorado announced that it will become the first state to implement risk-limiting audits to ensure votes are counted efficiently and accurately in elections. The unexpected election results in a few of the “swing” states in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election prompted the demand of recounts to be sure the results accurately portrayed how the voters casted their ballots. In the wake of the Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania recounts, digital security specialists and computer scientists argued that recounts could be all together eliminated by implementing risk-limiting audits. Currently only New Mexico and Colorado have the capability of doing so, and Colorado has been launched into the spotlight as an example for other states to follow.

Media hysteria hit as claims and accusations of hacking in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election made the news. Amidst the commotion, there fortunately presented an opportunity for election officials to reevaluate their systems and the security of their election information. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “on Election Day alone, there were nearly 150,000 attempts to penetrate South Carolina’s voter registration system.” This alarming bit of information prompts research and ultimately solutions to be able to ensure voters that they can be confident in the election process.

What is a risk-limiting audit?

A risk-limiting audit checks some voted ballots in search of strong evidence that the reported election outcome was correct – if it was. If incorrect, the audit typically leads to a full hand count that will report the correct outcome. Once the audit finds strong evidence that the reported outcome was correct, the software is designed to stop as the audit “intelligently adapts to the facts of a particular election.”

Why jurisdictions should use risk-limiting audits rather than hand count the ballots?

Efficiency and accuracy. The risk-limiting audits are adaptable to a variety of voting machines, making it an efficient option for jurisdictions to handle a recount should it be necessary. The process can begin even before all of the votes have been counted if needed. The audits not only monitor the election outcomes, but can also be used to check the system performance of the voting machines making the audits a versatile tool for jurisdictions.

Free & Fair is the election security firm tasked with administering the technology for Colorado to put the auditing software in place. Free & Fair and Colorado intend to release the technology under a free license to make it available for other states to use in their voting jurisdictions.

Colorado believes that by implementing the audit software, they can be better prepared for any scenario that would put election integrity at risk, and give them better confidence in ensuring the constituents that their votes are secure.