Risk Limiting Audits: A Guide for Global Use

A recent report, Risk Limiting Audits: A Guide for Global Use <read> is about the most comprehensive and balanced introduction to Risk Limiting Audits that I have seen. Its 38 pages will take an hour or two to read in detail, and well worth it.

I am a fan of Risk Limiting Audits, yet I am concerned that they are misunderstood in several dimensions:

  • RLAs are not a panacea: They are one type of audit among that others that need to be performed among several. Complementary audits are needed as a prerequisite to trusted RLAs, such as auditing the security of ballots presented for the RLA. RLAs done well, only assure that ballots were counted and tabulated correctly enough. There are other audits needed to determine the legitimacy of the election, such as the accuracy of voting lists and the integrity of the check-in lists and processes.
  • RLAs are not easy or simple: Some tout RLA benefits claiming that they are easy and simple. They are not. They are complicated and require attention to detail. They require scientific expertise to organize, execute, and understand, and for the most part trust on the part of the public in that science. They may be efficient, yet not simple to implement and understand.
  • RLAs have not been uniformly done well and backed by sufficient laws and procedures: Most state laws and procedures are insufficient and, at best, add confidence to the very few contests actually subject to such audits.
  • The larger the contest audited, the more efficient a RLA can be: Statewide contests and Congressional races can be reasonably to highly efficient. Auditing local contests, especially all local races can be expensive and time consuming, approaching the cost of recounting those contests by hand.

While optimistic, the Guide, points to all the details at a high-level, while avoiding all the statistical details. That makes it readable It does not avoid pointing out all other audits and their necessity.  It also emphasizes the need for transparency and public verifiability – often neglected in RLAs and other audits.



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