To Enhance Election Security, Rhode Island Tests A New Way to Verify Election Results

Aurora Matthews, New Heights Communications, 301.221.7984

Rebecca Autrey, Brennan Center for Justice, or 646.292.8316

To Enhance Election Security, Rhode Island Tests A New Way to Verify Election Results

Rhode Island is making good on its promise to road-test risk-limiting election audits, following 2017 passage of legislation by the Rhode Island General Assembly, requiring them. Beginning with the presidential primary in April 2020, Rhode Island will become the second state to require these audits to verify election results. A “risk limiting” audit checks if the election result is correct. Specifically it checks the counting of the votes. A “risk-limiting” audit limits the risk that the wrong election result will be certified. It can catch errors which change the result and correct a wrong result.

For more background on the legislation, visit here: and here:

To prepare for next year’s full implementation, the Rhode Island Board of Elections will conduct three pilot audits on January 16 and 17 at 50 Branch Avenue in Providence, Rhode Island. These pilot audits will be conducted with local election officials from Bristol, Cranston and Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

The purpose is to test three different methods for conducting risk-limiting audits.  A variety of tasks will be conducted over two days, including hand tabulation of a sample of ballots. For purposes of planning future audits a time and measurement study will be conducted over the two days.

Rhode Island will demonstrate three types of audits:

  • Ballot-level comparison audit for Bristol precincts: This method A ballot-level comparison audit is an audit that is similar to checking an expense report. First the audit checks that the subtotals add up to the reported totals. And then individual ballots are checked against how they are recorded by the machine – similar to checking receipts against numbers in a spreadsheet.
  • Batch-level comparison audit for Cranston precincts: This method will check a random sample of ballot “batches” and compare the total vote count of those batches against the voting machine’s count. A batch will consist of between 250-300 ballots.
  • Ballot-level polling audit for Portsmouth precincts: This method will check a random sample of ballots with the reported outcome, not against the voting machine’s record of those votes. This is comparable to an exit poll. But instead of using the voters’ responses to questions, it checks marking of the actual ballots.  Enough ballots are sampled to give election officials confidence that the outcome is correct.

“We strongly support the Rhode Island Board of Election’s piloting risk-limiting audits as they prepare for full implementation of our law in 2020. Given recent threats to US cybersecurity, risk-limiting audits help conduct accurate, fair elections, strengthening voter confidence in election results,” said John Marion, Executive Director of Common Cause Rhode Island. “We hope many other US states will follow Rhode Island’s example,” he added

“Rhode Island’s Board of Elections’ risk-limiting audit pilot is a critical step toward safeguarding our elections. 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,” said Marian K. Schneider, president of Verified Voting.

“Rhode Island is helping lead the nation toward the future of election administration and election security by piloting risk-limiting audits,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “They are the gold-standard in post-election checks, and implementing them across the country is essential to catching problems with vote tallies and ensuring voter confidence. The pilots offer a great learning opportunity for officials and advocates alike, and they will help improve RLA processes as these audits become more widespread.”

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