It was one of the most high-profile post-election audits in American history, but it won’t be the last. Electoral integrity and security experts increasingly strive risk-limiting audits (RLA) a legal requirement for elections in all 50 states. In the last few years alone, 11 states have passed laws requiring, authorizing or piloting risk-limiting audits. The idea is to build trust in systems that have become obscure as they are increasingly mechanized.
“Machine counting is great, but should we trust them?” says Ben Adida, who heads the nonprofit election security organization VotingWorks. “The point of risk mitigation audits is that the machines are great in terms of speed, accuracy and objectivity, but let’s check them to make sure they don’t make mistakes and have not been hacked. “
After a largely automated initial count, a risk-limiting audit takes a small number of votes that humans count and compare to the initial result. The process has been set up and set apart by statisticians, voting experts, election officials, and computer scientists over the past two decades, but it has only recently started to be used in important elections. (Colorado was the first state to pass risk-limiting audit legislation in 2009; its first statewide RLA was in 2017.)
Adida’s nonprofit, launched in 2018, has designed free and open source software to help conduct these audits cheaply and quickly, in hopes of getting states to adopt RLA more widely. . VotingWorks helped Georgia conduct its audit this year and Adida hopes the idea will spread.
Starting with a dice roll
In Colorado, the process begins with a large, bizarre public ceremony that anyone can attend: the State rolls a 10-sided die 20 times to create a random “starting” number that initiates the audit. This determines which ballots will be compared to the results. Everything is done this way to try to build trust.
“The fact that risk-limiting audits are public ceremonies that the public and the press can attend is a very positive thing that will help voters perceive the elections as more trustworthy in addition to the election being more trustworthy. in reality, ”says Adida. “We’re going to think about what we name it and talk about it. Even the word audit itself has a lot of negative connotations and that’s understandable. “
What shall we do now? Over the next four years, nearly half of states could adopt risk mitigation audits with these targets. In the meantime, aside from the final stages of Congressional confirmation, this particular election is over.