Risk-Limiting Audit Pilot of November 2020 Presidential Election Finds Strong Evidence of Accurate Count 

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HARRISBURG, PA — Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar announced that Pennsylvania has completed a statewide risk-limiting audit pilot of the November 2020 presidential election and the results provided strong evidence of the accuracy of the count of votes cast in the November 2020 presidential election.

Sixty-three participating counties reviewed a statistical sample of over 45,000 randomly selected ballots from the November 3, 2020, General Election. The results of the sample mirrored the reported presidential election results across the participating counties within a fraction of a percentage point, providing confirmation of the accuracy of the vote count.

“Many thanks to election officials across the state who did a phenomenal job, under tough circumstances, to complete this pilot audit to add yet another layer of election security and integrity measures to our existing safeguards,” Secretary Boockvar said. “Risk-limiting audits provide additional confidence in the accuracy of election outcomes, further strengthen our ability to withstand an attack on our electoral system, and confirm that the outcome of an election is accurate.”

Pennsylvania is one of the first states in the nation to pioneer pilots of the risk-limiting audit (RLA), a scientifically designed procedure using statistical methods to confirm whether reported election outcomes are correct and to detect possible interference. RLAs examine a random sample of paper ballots, comparing the votes on paper to the totals reported by the vote-counting machines to ensure that the winner actually won. These types of audits can confirm that voting systems tabulated the paper ballots accurately enough that a full hand count would produce the same outcome.

County election officials, Department of State staff, and election experts from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, National Vote at Home Institute, Verified Voting, and VotingWorks participated in developing and implementing the pilot audit.

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“Sullivan County was pleased to participate in the RLA pilot of the presidential election.  This process gave Pennsylvania election directors a chance to increase the public’s confidence in the outcome of the November 2020, vote,” Sullivan County Director of Elections Hope Verelst said. ” Audits, along with all of the other security measures in place, help to strengthen the integrity of the election process.”

To conduct the pilot, counties first created ballot manifests, which are spreadsheets identifying the organization of and numbers of cast ballots in each county. All ballots types were included, including in-person, mail-in, absentee and provisional.  After the counties uploaded their manifests to the audit software, a random seed number was generated, and the audit software selected the random list of ballots to be retrieved by each county.  The 63 participating counties retrieved the ballots, indicated the vote cast for the presidential contest on each ballot, and the system tallied and analyzed the results. The system results of the sample mirrored the reported presidential election results across the participating counties within a fraction of a percentage point, providing strong evidence of the accuracy of the vote count.

“The Lebanon County Bureau of Elections completed a RLA for the presidential electors’ race from the November 3 General Election.  The RLA was a great tool that reinforced that the results of the presidential race were done accurately and securely,” said Michael Anderson, Director of Lebanon County Bureau of Elections. “The process allowed for members of all interested parties to be involved in the process by reviewing a random sample of ballots in a nonpartisan fashion.   As the Director of Elections here in Lebanon County, I believe the RLA is another important tool that demonstrates to the public that the results are accurate and provides another important measure in keeping the process open, safe, and transparent.”

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Robust post-election audits have been recommended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee, and many other experts as one part of a strong and resilient election infrastructure.

“Pennsylvania’s risk-limiting audit pilot of the November election is another pivotal step forward in the commonwealth’s ongoing efforts to ensure that voting is safe and secure,” said Liz Howard, senior counsel, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “We’re proud to partner with state and local election officials to help them implement the gold standard of post-election audits to protect voter confidence in the integrity of our elections.”

The success of this second statewide audit will provide the Department’s post-election audit workgroup with valuable information as it continues to develop auditing practices and procedures that advance election security and integrity across the Commonwealth.

“As a former Pennsylvania county election official who was on the ground floor of the risk-limiting audit effort in 2019, it was especially gratifying to see the statewide pilot of the general election come to fruition and be successfully completed,” said Jeff Greenburg, regional director for election support, National Vote at Home Institute. “We were honored to have contributed to this historic audit.”

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Over the past three years, the Department of State certified nine new voting systems for use by the counties. Each system provides a voter verifiable paper record of each vote cast, meets the latest standards of security and accessibility, and can be thoroughly audited. All counties had selected and implemented new voting systems in time for the 2020 primary. Previous County RLA pilots were held successfully in Mercer and Philadelphia counties in 2019 and the first statewide pilot was held in August of 2020.

In addition, in Pennsylvania every voting system and paper ballot must include plain text that voters can read to verify their choices before casting their ballot, and every system has successfully completed penetration testing, access-control testing and testing to ensure that every access point, software and firmware are protected from tampering. Many other important recommendations by national security and cybersecurity experts are in place in Pennsylvania, including mandatory pre-election testing of all voting equipment before every election.

“VotingWorks is proud to support Pennsylvania’s work to implement best-in-class election audits,” said Ginny Vander Roest, election implementation manager, VotingWorks. “Their dedicated county election administrators once again proved that election security is their priority.”

For more information on election security in Pennsylvania, visit votesPA.com.

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