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Risk-Limiting Audits in Arizona

Risk-limiting audits are an effective tool that can be implemented in the state of Arizona.

Published: February 1, 2021


In the face of record-break­ing voter turnout and a global pandemic, Arizona elec­tion offi­cials and poll work­ers success­fully admin­istered a safe and secure Novem­ber 2020 general elec­tion. foot­note1_2qrj­coh 1 This white paper was prepared at the request of the Arizona secret­ary of state. The views and opin­ions expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not neces­sar­ily reflect the offi­cial policy or posi­tion of the secret­ary of state. In large part, that was because of the coordin­ated effort of state, local, and federal offi­cials to ensure that Arizona was well prepared for the elec­tion effort.

Two of the most import­ant elec­tion secur­ity meas­ures in use in Arizona today, paper ballots and postelec­tion audits, were first imple­men­ted more than a decade ago. foot­note2_o4n6×0f 2 Among the most import­ant recom­mend­a­tions the Senate Select Commit­tee on Intel­li­gence made in its July 2019 report were that states should (1) replace outdated and vulner­able voting systems with “at minimum . . . a voter-veri­fied paper trail” and (2) adopt stat­ist­ic­ally sound audits. Report of the Select Commit­tee on Intel­li­gence United States Senate on Russian Active Meas­ures Campaigns and Inter­fer­ence in the 2016 U.S. Elec­tion Volume 1: Russian Efforts Against Elec­tion Infra­struc­ture with Addi­tional Views, U.S. Senate Select Commit­tee on Intel­li­gence, July 15, 2019, 59,­li­­ments/Report_Volume1.pdf.  Currently, Arizona is one of at least 24 states that conduct postelec­tion audits, which require hand review of paper ballots, prior to certi­fic­a­tion of the elec­tion results. foot­note3_cwj6­pho 3 Andrea Córdova McCad­ney, Eliza­beth Howard, and Lawrence Norden, Voting Machine Secur­ity: Where We Stand Six Months Before the New Hamp­shire Primary, Bren­nan Center for Justice, August 13, 2019, https://www.bren­nan­cen­­ion/voting-machine-secur­ity-where-we-stand-six-months-new-hamp­shire-primary.  However, as we discuss in detail below, there are two substant­ive defi­cien­cies in Arizon­a’s current audit law: (1) local elec­tion offi­cials are preven­ted from complet­ing an audit if one or more polit­ical parties refuse to parti­cip­ate and (2) the type of postelec­tion audit required (a “tradi­tional” postelec­tion audit) limits the effic­acy and the flex­ib­il­ity of the audit. foot­note4_oynb0jr 4 Tradi­tional post-elec­tion audits are usually conduc­ted manu­ally by hand count­ing a portion of the paper records and compar­ing them to the elec­tronic results produced by an elec­tronic voting machine. . . . [They typic­ally] look at a fixed percent­age of voting districts or voting machines and compare the paper record to the results produced by the voting system. Even in a land­slide elec­tion, they will count the same number of ballots as they would in a nail-biter elec­tion.” National Confer­ence of State Legis­latures, Post-Elec­tion Audits, Octo­ber 25, 2020,­tions-and-campaigns/post-elec­tion-audit­s635926066.aspx.

To address these short­com­ings, Arizona should (1) require postelec­tion audits by elim­in­at­ing the audit stop order triggered by a polit­ical party’s fail­ure to parti­cip­ate and (2) replace the currently required postelec­tion audit with the more effect­ive and typic­ally more cost-effi­cient risk-limit­ing audit. A risk-limit­ing audit (RLA) is a check on the elec­tion outcome. Through the use of proven stat­ist­ical meth­od­o­lo­gies, an RLA provides voters with confid­ence in the accur­acy of elec­tion results. It can be conduc­ted publicly and is designed to detect, and correct, count­ing errors or mali­cious attacks that change the outcome of an elec­tion.

Arizona should begin by estab­lish­ing an RLA pilot program that will allow local elec­tion offi­cials to test the proced­ure and give offi­cials and the public time to provide feed­back before issu­ance of uniform statewide proced­ures and docu­ment­a­tion require­ments. foot­note5_yy8u9ct 5 Nevada Secret­ary of State Barbara Cegavske (R) and Geor­gia Secret­ary of State Brad Raffen­sper­ger (R) both imple­men­ted a pilot period for their respect­ive states’ risk-limit­ing audits. “Nevada SB 123 required risk-limit­ing audits to be phased in. A pilot program for conduct­ing risk-limit­ing audits will be conduc­ted in Novem­ber 2020 and each county clerk must conduct a risk-limit­ing audit begin­ning in 2022. Nevada previ­ously had a tradi­tional post-elec­tion audit in place.” National Confer­ence of State Legis­latures, Post-Elec­tion Audits. “The Secret­ary of State shall conduct a risk-limit­ing audit pilot program with a risk limit of not greater than 10 percent in one or more counties by Decem­ber 31, 2021.” O.C.G.A. § 21–2–498(e).

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