Last December, the IPAT Clinic helped the California Voter Foundation (CVF) and several others submit a joint public comment to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla regarding the Secretary of State’s proposed Risk-limiting Audit Regulations.
Joining Kim Alexander, CVF’s President, on the public comment was Jack Lerner, a member of the CVF Board of Directors (and Director of the IPAT Clinic), Pamela Smith and Mark Lindeman of Verified Voting, Philip Stark, Professor of Statistics at University of California—Berkeley, and Kammi Foote, Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters in Inyo County. IPAT Certified Law Students Hannah Green and Prachi Mistry participated in developing the comment.
An earlier blog post on the public comment can be found here. The IPAT clinic, together with CVF, is developing a report comparing two post-election audit methods: the one percent manual tally (1PMT), which California has used since the 1960s, and risk-limiting audits (RLAs), which are currently being piloted throughout California and around the country. When conducting a 1PMT, election officials manually tally the paper ballots in 1% of an election’s precincts in order to assess possible error in the election process and outcome. When conducting an RLA, election officials randomly select and tally paper ballots until they can determine that there is at most a designated chance of an error in the reported election outcome, such as 5%. In October 2019, the Secretary of State provided draft regulations for risk-limiting audits and invited the public to submit written comments.
CVF et al’s joint public comment thanked Secretary Padilla for assembling the regulations and for including provisions that promote the transparency and security of election audits. Indeed, the regulations provided much-needed guidance on how to appropriately approach an RLA as an election official. But the comment also raised concerns about the draft regulations and provided recommendations on how to address those concerns. The primary concern was that many of the provisions, as they were drafted, conflicted with the existing law regarding how RLAs should be conducted. The letter also included recommended changes to the regulations that would ensure the transparency and observability of the auditing process (such as requiring that the RLA source code be disclosed, and making Cast Vote Records publicly available). Finally, the comment suggested that the Secretary of State clarify how election officials should approach partial or cross-jurisdictional RLAs. In response, the Secretary of State reconvened the Working Group (which includes the authors of the joint public comment) to discuss these recommendations. Earlier this year, the Secretary published revised proposed Risk-Limiting Audit Regulations. We applaud the new regulations, which largely incorporate substantive recommended changes made in the comment. The authors of the public comment once again joined in a public comment on January 17, 2020 to commend the Secretary of State on the modifications to the proposed regulations.
The Secretary’s office has also drafted emergency legislation to permit counties to adopt a “mix and match” approach to RLA pilots. The law currently requires that if a county wants to conduct an RLA in lieu of the One Percent Manual Tally, it must do so on all contests in the county—an unworkable administrative burden for virtually all counties. The proposed emergency legislation provides that beginning in November 2020, counties may conduct RLA audits on some contests wholly contained within the county in lieu of the One Percent Manual Tally audit of that contest. Existing law requires that if a county conduct an RLA in lieu of the 1PMT, it must do so for all contests within the county. The emergency legislation will likely ease the administrative burden in conducting RLAs and encourage more counties to do so.
The modified regulations represent significant improvements in election security and are a direct result of the collaboration between the California Voter Foundation, Verified Voting, the RLA Working Group, and the Secretary of State.