Pennsylvania’s Third Statewide Risk-Limiting Election Audit Kicks Off with Live Streamed Ballot Selection

Risk-limiting auditCredit: Commonwealth Media Services

PENNSYLVANIA — The Department of State kicked off Pennsylvania’s third statewide risk-limiting audit (RLA) on Thursday, a process designed to verify the accuracy of election results. This action continues Governor Shapiro’s stated commitment to election administration transparency in the Commonwealth.

“National experts consider RLAs the highest standard of comprehensive election audits,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt. “The RLA process provides a statistically sound method for confirming, with a high degree of confidence, that the reported outcome of the audited election is accurate.”

During the livestream, 10 Department employees generated a random 20-digit “seed number” by rolling 10-sided dice. This seed number will determine which batches of ballots from the Nov. 7, 2023, municipal election will be audited in the coming days.

The audit, known as a “batch comparison” type of RLA, will focus on the Pennsylvania Superior Court judge race. County officials will hand-tally the randomly selected ballot batches and compare those vote counts against the original machine counts for the audited race. This pre-certification audit aims to confirm the accurate tabulation of paper ballots, ensuring a full hand count would yield the same reported outcome.

This RLA will supplement the 2% statutorily required review that counties must perform after each primary and general election, which involves a statistical recount of a random sample of at least 2% of all ballots cast – or 2,000 ballots, whichever is fewer.

Counties must complete the RLA by Nov. 24, and certify all election results to Secretary Schmidt by Nov. 27.

Pennsylvania’s history with RLAs began in 2019 when the Department convened a post-election audit workgroup. After three years of research, discussion, and pilot RLAs, the workgroup recommended the use of this batch-comparison type of RLA in its 2020 report.

In September 2022, the Department issued a directive instructing counties to conduct a pre-certification RLA after every election, beginning with that year’s general election. The Department has livestreamed and recorded the random seed selection process for the previous two statewide RLAs, conducted in November 2022 and May 2023.

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