Connecticut RLA Working Group, 2nd Meeting

On Wednesday, the CT RLA (Risk Limiting Audit) Working Group held its second meeting and firmed up plans for the 2021 prototype audits. Below is a video of the meeting and an email I sent the Chair Gabe Rosenburg and the chief scientist from UConn, Alex Russell.

Watch here:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzakPMlj0LigvokDrkgiDVw/live

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Gabe, Alex,

I have watched both meetings of the RLA Working Group and have several Suggestions and comments.

As you may or may not know, I have been involved in post-election audits and audit laws in CT and nationally since 2007. Since 2009 I have been involved in what become known as RLAs. I was a catalyst in causing a meeting in early 2010 in D.C. and in securing invitations to three officials from CT who attended. After that meeting, they took the lead in initiating what became the UConn Audit Station. I was involved in the planning of the Colorado RLAs and planning, executing, and reporting on the Rhode Island RLA pilot. I was an observer at the Fairfax City RLA demonstration, which I used as a basis to suggest improvements for the RI pilot.

  • I complement all involved on the successful development of the UConn Audit Station. And the significant improvements in it in the last couple of years. It can save CT hundreds of thousands in an RLA.  Note: That all the experts recommended a Ballot Comparison Audit for RI, yet due to the extreme cost of ES&S central count scanners, the RI Board of Elections chose Batch Comparison Audits.
  • QR codes: The use of QR codes on ballots (mainly on printed ballot marking device ballots) has raised huge integrity and transparency concerns. The concern is that they are not human readable/verifiable for auditing. I would suggest a)the QR code labels also included printed sequence numbers etc. of what is in the QR code and b)the QR code be readable to show that same information by a standard smart phone QR code reader. I would also suggest you assume that QR codes do not need to be scanned in order, to facilitate multiple people/groups putting on stickers and that some stickers will be broken, misapplied, or otherwise discarded in the process.
  • Are you aware of the recent guidance for the U.S. DOJ that all election materials should be preserved for 22 months for Federal Elections. So things like CVRs, images, paper and computer records (Arlo records) must also be preserved?  Since this is not a Federal election the letter does not apply, yet it would be a good practice to do the same for 6 months for other elections as well.
    https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1417796/download
  • I would have liked if ABs were included in the prototypes. Also note that there has been no recognition of the need to account for originally hand counted and EDR ballots in an actual RLA.
  • Two Transparency Requests: I hope you will consider giving at least a week’s notice of the date, time and place of any RLA prototypes, such that there is an opportunity for observers to attend. I would also suggest, like RI, live video stream(s) of the RLAs showing the whole space, so that the pubic can in that way observe the whole process and additional streams showing the details of ballot comparisons, ballot security, and data entry into Arlo (or other software).
  • Two Small Comments on the Slides: a) National experts have consistently said that there are three RLA methods, yet they include Batch Comparison Audits and view Full Recounts as a possible final round of all the other types of RLAs. b) I believe it is incorrect to state that “All previous pilots have considered single precincts”. As the person planning and leading the RI Batch Comparison Audit, I can state that it included multiple precincts. I also checked with my colleagues more involved in Colorado and they confirmed that Colorado pilots always included multiple precincts.
  • Going forward, a) I believe that the biggest challenge in conducting an RLA for CT is the town-by-town structure of elections. I would be a strong advocate for the idea of a small number of sites across the state for scanning with the Audit Station, with trained officials responsible for the Audit Station and guiding local officials in the rescanning process. b) Instead of QR stickers, perhaps a device or scanner could be acquired/developed to print QR codes on an appropriate place on ballots – stickering the whole state would be quite an expensive, time-consuming process.

Finally, while I am a supporter of RLAs, they are not a panacea, In my opinion, in many instances they have been oversold as easy and they are all that is necessary to prove that elections are OK. I am not aware of any state laws for RLAs that I or most would  consider good, even as far as they go.  Often they leave it to an official to choose contests to audit, leaving the suspicion that they made political decisions, where also they often choose uninteresting high margin contests to make the RLA easier. Similarly they often require the auditing of one or two contests, which says nothing about other contests. Doing Ballot Comparison RLAs has the advantage that with marginally more work all large contests can be audited (in CT, statewide and Congressional Races are most suited to RLAs).

RLAs are not well suited to municipal contests in CT, as your statistical table shows. RLAs do not provide much insight into errors. So, there is a place for the batch audits now done in CT. There is also a need for eligibility audits – are the checkoffs accurate? Are those checked actually qualified to vote? Are absentee ballots signed correctly, signatures accurately adjudicated? Etc. Especially in CT there is a need for audits of ballot security, which according to the experts are a prerequisite to trusted, useful RLAs.

Perhaps you would share this letter with the entire membership of the Working Group.

Thanks,

Luther Weeks
Executive Director, CTVotersCount and Connecticut Citizen Election Audit

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