‘Risk-Limiting’ Audits Could Provide Election Assurances

The security measure is being piloted in three Michigan cities as a way to detect irregularities that could influence the outcome of elections, such as cyberattacks, machine and human errors.

by Malachi Barrett, Kalamazoo Gazette / December 5, 2018
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(TNS) — Three Michigan cities are testing a new process designed to provide strong statistical evidence that the election outcome is correct.

The "risk-limiting audit" is a relatively new election security measure being tested across Michigan this week. It's designed to detect irregularities that could influence reported election outcomes, including cyber-attacks and unintentional machine or human errors.

The goal of the pilot will be to determine how risk-limiting audits could be rolled out statewide. Kalamazoo, Lansing and Rochester Hills will also pilot the procedure during the first week of December.

"Our goal as election administrators is to foster confidence in the electoral process, the results of that process, and ultimately our democratic institutions," said Kalamazoo City Clerk Scott Borling. "Michigan voters put their faith in us to conduct free and fair elections. The Risk-Limiting Audit provides another tool and opportunity to demonstrate their trust is well placed."

Results from the Nov. 6 election will be audited from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Kalamazoo City Hall on Wednesday.

The audit aims to confirm whether reported election results are correct and detect possible anomalies that may need further scrutiny. Ballots will be randomly selected based on a mathematical formula to confirm that the ballot tabulators tallied them correctly.

Michigan's election system already incorporates election security measures recommended by national security and cybersecurity experts, however, risk-limiting audits are intended to complement existing procedures.

Colorado, which has an all mail-in election process, used risk-limiting audits for the first time statewide this year. Other states, including Rhode Island and Virginia, will start using them statewide in future election cycles.

When the pilot was announced in October, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said Michigan is seeking to get ahead of other states in strengthening election integrity.

Michigan's highly decentralized elections system features both Election Day and absentee voting administered by the 1,520 city and township clerks across the state.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections and municipal clerks partnered with a team of experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the University of California at Berkeley, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, Verified Voting, and Indiana's Voting System Technical Oversight Program.

©2018 Kalamazoo Gazette, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.