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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_7o0r13u 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_4qhhuka 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the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence made in its July 2019 report were that states should (1) replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems with “at minimum .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,  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_3fy7irp 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,  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_yj7cen4 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,

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_5ronrm6 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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