Rhode Island Risk Limiting Audit in Time Magazine

Not exactly person of the year or prisoner of the month I did have my picture in Time Magazine! The occasion was the Rhode Island Risk Limiting Audit (RLA) where I participated last week.

Russia Wants to Undermine Trust in Elections. Here’s How Rhode Island Is Fighting Back <read>

Contrary to the headline, Rhode Island wants to make sure their elections are protected from all sorts of problems, after a programming error in 2017 almost caused an incorrect result to be certified.

The article contains some very good summaries of what what we and the Rhode Island Board of Elections were up to:

“Democracy and elections are only as good as whether people trust them or not,” [Secretary of State Nellie] Gorbea said. “Confidence in our democracy is critical to every other public policy issue.”…

Amid this uncertainty, Rhode Island is pioneering a means of protecting its election results through a procedure called a “risk-limiting audit.” This method, which election experts consider the gold-standard of post-election checks, is essentially an efficient review of ballots that provides strong statistical evidence that the reported vote tallies in an election are correct…

In addition to public officials and election staffers, the “protectors of democracy” in Providence included a substantial number of volunteers offering their time and expertise for free, simply because they were passionate about securing their fellow citizens’ votes. Teams from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and MIT developed the software that selected votes for the pilot, which will be open source so other states can use it in the future. The leader of a Connecticut citizens’ group[, Luther Weeks, Executive Director of Connecticut Citizen Election Audit] provided input on one ballot-counting method, and a woman who independently advocates for audits organized observers to gather timing data throughout the event. Many in the group greeted each other like summer camp friends after a winter away, eager to catch up on issues they’d seen in other elections and share tips on the newest democracy-defending tactics…

at the Board of Elections warehouse in Providence, where 22 election staffers overseen by Deputy Director of Elections Miguel Nunez and Warehouse and Logistics Manager Steve Taylor retrieved and manually counted ballots for three different kinds of risk-limiting audits to see which method worked best for their state…

I was there to learn and also to lead the demonstration of two methods of performing the batch comparison audit. In the end both methods demonstrated that the two voting machines we audited were accurate last November 6th and with good methods and the dedicated officials present we were also accurate.

At the end of Rhode Island’s pilot, the batch-level comparison and ballot-level comparison audits were both successful, meaning they provided strong statistical evidence confirming the reported election results. The ballot-polling audit fell very slightly outside the accepted risk, which in a real audit would trigger another round using a slightly larger sample. But in this pilot, the goal was simply to test the methods, not to meet a particular level of evidence.

It was an to participate in the months of planning and three days of execution.


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