Colorado Successfully Completes Nation’s First Statewide Risk-Limiting Audit

[Image via all-flags-world]

NOTE: Post updated to reflect that recent result was the first statewide audit of its kind.

Colorado recently conducted the nation’s first statewide post-election risk-limiting audit (RLA) – and the state announced that the audit was successful in all counties chosen to participate. The Denver Post has more:

Colorado has completed a first-of-its-kind statewide election audit, which drew attention from outside the state, with all participating counties passing.

That means the so-called risk-limiting audit showed the state’s vote tabulating machines properly counted ballots from the election that ended earlier this month.

The audit involved a manual recount of a sample of ballots from the more than 50 counties that had elections this year and compared them with how they were interpreted by tabulating machines. The exercise, which began late last week and was completed Tuesday, comes amid national concern about election integrity.

“I think it’s fair to say that both state and county election officials were a little anxious because this has never been done before,” Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said in a written statement. “But it turned out to be an amazing success, and that’s because our staff and our county clerks have done a phenomenal job. I am thankful for their hard work and dedication.”

The audit drew observers from Rhode Island [who has also enacted an RLA requirement], as well as top federal voting-oversight officials.

“Colorado’s risk-limiting audit provided great insights into how to conduct more efficient and effective post-election audits,” said Matt Masterson, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which aids states with their elections. “The EAC is eager to share some of the lessons learned with election officials across America.”

The audit resulted from a bill passed by state lawmakers in 2009. The first audit was supposed to happen in 2014, but training and technological challenges pushed it back until last week’s elections. [I wrote about the legislation and the SoS’ plans to implement it back in July.]

State election officials used to rescan ballots to ensure tabulating machines were working, but now they are using a complex statistical process to double-check that the machines interpreted ballots (chosen at random through a die-roll system) as a human would have.

Risk-limiting audits will take place from now on after every election in Colorado, including the June primaries for governorattorney general and other races.

Some 1.2 million ballots were cast during the fall election cycle. All but six of the state’s 64 counties had contests.

Some counties still have close races requiring a recount.

“It was an incredibly successful first effort,” said Dwight Shellman, county support manager for the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.  “I’m really proud of our team and of all the county clerks. We are already in the process of working with the clerks and interested stakeholders to collect lessons learned to make the process even better in the future.”

This is a huge development for the field; while the theory (and math!) behind RLA has been around for a while, Colorado’s efforts to make it happen in the “real world” is a tremendous first step. Perhaps even more importantly, the Colorado RLA process brought together election officials and advocates on a solution – a sight you don’t usually see, even in these times when election security is an issue and the two sides need each other more than ever. Congratulations to everyone in Colorado for their work on this; the excitement about the project was (and is!) palpable and with good reason.

Can’t wait to see what’s next – in Colorado and elsewhere … stay tuned!

 

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