Pennsylvania ‘risk-limiting audit’ underway of presidential election ballots

Pennsylvania has begun a statewide ‘risk-limiting audit’ or manual, statistical review of a random sample of ballots cast in the November 3 presidential election.

 The process is already underway in at least 64 counties, while three have not yet started, but the Department of State says the audit is not mandatory.

Election security experts have been recommending these audits as a way to check the paper record of a vote without having to recount all votes cast.

The Department of State extended the timeline for county election officials to complete the audit from the original deadline of Jan. 3 to Jan. 22 after staff complained that holidays and COVID restrictions were slowing the process considerably.

County election officials must first give the Department of State a spreadsheet listing all of the containers where ballots are stored and the number of ballots in each container. Ballots are assigned a random seed number, and special auditing software generates a list of ballots to be retrieved by each county.

County election officials then pull those ballots and enter the vote cast for the presidential race into the auditing software. The results are then tallied and run through an algorithm to determine if the reported outcome of the election is correct.

Risk-limiting audits are supposed to be more efficient than a regular audit, because as the margin of victory gets wider, the number of ballots that need to be audited to determine if the right winner was announced gets smaller.

 House and Senate Republican members have begun signing on to a petition to force Gov. Tom Wolf to call a special session of the Legislature focusing on election issues.

 The House State Government Committee has also laid the groundwork to conduct an audit of the election when the new legislative session starts next month.

The committee has also launched an investigation into the circumstances that led to uneven application of Act 77 – the 2019 law permitting no-excuse mail-in voting  across the state.

Republican lawmakers have also been writing legislation to address problems with the 2020 election and mail voting.

Republicans hold majorities in both legislative chambers, and they supported the year-old state law that expanded mail voting to all registered voters. One bill being discussed would repeal that law and force voters to state an excuse to receive a ballot in the mail.

“We’d like to tighten it up as soon as we can,” said Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward.

Interim Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman on Monday announced he plans to introduce a resolution to create a bipartisan special committee to conduct an exhaustive review of all aspects of the 2020 general election.

“Nothing is more important than our right to vote as well as ensuring Pennsylvanians’ confidence in our elections,” Corman said in a news release. “Every senator has heard concerns from constituents about the 2020 election. Far too many residents of Pennsylvania are questioning the validity of their votes or have doubt that the process was conducted fairly, securely and produced accurate results. We must act to ensure integrity is restored to voting through this bipartisan effort.”