Signed into law in 1965, California’s audit law calls for every contest and ballot issue on the ballot to be audited by means of a hand count of 1% of the precincts in each jurisdiction during the official canvass. Cal. Elec. Code § 336.5(a); see also Cal. Elec. Code § 15360. Following a revision to Cal. Elec. Code § 15360 in 2017, ballots not counted in the “semifinal official canvass” are exempt from the 1% manual tally, thus potentially excluding many mail and provisional ballots. (See “Audit Comprehensiveness” for further details.)
California previously had in place a risk-limiting audit pilot program, which allowed election officials to conduct a risk-limiting audit of one or more contest(s) in place of the 1% manual tally of those contests. The risk-limiting audit pilot program expired on January 1, 2023. A.B. 2400, 2019–2020 Leg. (Cal. 2020). More information on the risk-limiting audit pilot program, including audit results, is available on the secretary of state’s website.
In May 2023, the secretary of state proposed regulations related to the counting of ballots, which, once finalized, will clarify aspects of the 1% manual tally, including on chain of custody, results reporting, and the random selection of precincts for audit.
Voting Systems Used
Most California counties primarily use hand marked paper ballots and optical scanners for in-person voters, with ballot marking devices for those who need or want to use them. A few counties use ballot marking devices for all in-person voters. For the most up to date information please visit Verified Voting’s Verifier.
For an explanation on the types of voting equipment used, click here.
A.B. 840 revised California’s 1% manual tally to exempt ballots not counted in the “semifinal official canvass,” which must be completed by the Thursday after election day. A.B. 840, 2017–2018 Leg. (Cal. 2017). Thus, large numbers of mail and provisional ballots are potentially excluded from the audit.
The statute provides that the manual tally “shall be a public process,” and that public notice of the time and location of both the audit and the selection of the audit sample be given. Cal. Elec. Code § 15360(e); see also § 336.5. The post-election audit report is to be included in the certification report, which is filed with the secretary of state and must be published on county websites. See Cal. Elec. Code § 15360(f); see also § 15372. Reports from recent elections are also available on the secretary of state’s website.
Audit Counting Method
The audit is conducted manually.
Type Of Audit Units
California’s 1% manual tally is conducted of randomly selected precincts; mail ballots may be audited separately from in-person ballots.
Contests & Issues Audited
The 1% manual tally covers all contests that appear on the ballot; if a contest is not represented in the original sample, county officials must select an additional precinct in which to audit that contest.
The audit must be conducted “during the official canvass” and a report of the audit must be included in the “certification of the official canvass.” Cal. Elec. Code § 15360.
Binding On Official Outcomes
The 1% manual tally statute specifies that the voted paper record will govern if there is a discrepancy between it and the electronic record—but this is very unlikely to affect the outcome. See Cal. Elec. Code § 15360(f).
Oversight & Conduct
As the chief election official, the secretary of state has oversight over the entire elections process, including election audits. The random selection of the precincts to be audited is conducted in each individual county, and the audits are conducted by local election officials.
In vote center counties that tabulate ballots centrally, at the end of each voting day, the precinct board is charged with removing the voted ballots from the ballot container and delivering them, in a sealed container, to the central receiving center. Cal. Elec. Code § 14428(a); see also § 14422. “In vote centers that use tabulating equipment, the precinct board must record the number of ballots cast on each voting device and securely seal the device to prevent additional ballots from being cast until the next day of voting.” Cal. Elec. Code § 14428(d).
Additional Targeted Samples
Additional precincts for the manual tally may be selected at the discretion of the election official. Cal. Elec. Code § 15360(a)(1).