New Report Details Rhode Island’s Risk-Limiting Audit Tests to Identify Best System for 2020 Election

Today, Common Cause, Verified Voting, and The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law released a report on Rhode Island’s pilot program to identify the most effective methods to implement the risk-limiting audits (RLA) required by the state for the 2020 election. The three organizations were part of a working group that helped the state design and run the pilots earlier this year.

Risk-limiting audits use statistical sampling to compare back-up paper records of votes to electronic totals from voting machines. This method helps identify potential hacks, malfunctions, or other interference in the voting process. The report, “Risk-Limiting Audit Methods in the State of Rhode Island” documents the innovative approaches taken by the state to evaluate the effectiveness of three different RLA methods in order to choose the most effective system to ensure the integrity of their elections in 2020 and beyond.

Election administration and security experts agree that RLAs are the “gold standard” of post-election audits in an era when the integrity of our election systems face unprecedented domestic and international threats. These audits will provide an added layer of election protection to provide confidence that the reported winner is the actual winner.

“As only the second state in the nation to require risk-limiting audits, Rhode Island is a trailblazer,” said John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island. “This report provides crucial data about how these audits perform that will be invaluable as their use spreads. It will prove a great resource to the growing number of state and local election officials assessing risk-limiting audits as they come to grips with the very real and growing threat to integrity of our elections from hostile foreign powers and others with vested interests in the outcomes of our elections.”

The only other state currently requiring statewide RLAs is Colorado.

“This report gives election officials a roadmap on how to design and implement effective risk-limiting audits,” said Marian K. Schneider, president of Verified Voting. “Rhode Island’s Board of Elections’ RLA pilot was a critical step toward increasing voter confidence and strengthening election security. Paper ballots, marked by hand or device, are the essential ingredient for ensuring that jurisdictions can recover from errors or tampering. Paper ballots coupled with routine risk-limiting audits are the best way to detect whether the software reported the election results accurately.”

RLAs give election officials the tools they need to run secure and accurate elections without overwhelming data sets or exorbitant costs. The report details how three types of risk-limiting audits—ballot-level comparison, ballot polling and batch comparison—recommending that a ballot-level comparison audit be used in Rhode Island. Ballot-level comparison RLAs are efficient, transparent and have a relatively predictable cost. For all three methods the report provides first of its kind information about how long it takes to complete individual components of the audits as well as cost estimates.

“The risk-limiting audit is one of the most important tools states can use to bolster voter confidence and secure our elections for 2020 and beyond,” said Wilfred Codrington, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law. “Rhode Island officials still have a lot of work to do before 2020 to implement these audits statewide, and we believe that this report will serve as a useful resource for them. We also think it’ll be a valuable tool for others across the country looking to follow the state’s leadership on this critical component of election security.”

Rhode Island will first employ risk-limiting audits for the 2020 presidential primaries, and RLAs will then see full implementation in statewide elections in November of 2020.

To read the full report, click here.