Effective January 2020, Ohio’s audit statute requires audits of general elections and primary elections conducted in even-numbered years. The statute generally requires at least three contests to be audited, and expressly includes all types of ballots. Audit procedures are promulgated by directives from the Secretary of State, which may either allow county officials to choose from three methods to conduct the audit, or require one of the methods to be used: a risk-limiting audit protocol, a “percentage-based” audit protocol, or another protocol approved by the Secretary of State. (The percentage is not specified in statute, but in recent years has been 5% of ballots cast in each county.) The audit may expand to a full hand count, and is binding on the results, but the statutory timeline allows the audit to be completed after the safe harbor date for choosing presidential electors. See, ORC 3505.331 and Ohio’s Election Official Manual, Chapter 9 Section 1.03.
Unless otherwise specified, statutory references are to Ohio’s Election Official Manual, Chapter 9 Section 1.03.
Voting Systems Used
As of 2020, counties in Ohio use a variety of systems in polling places: primarily hand marked paper ballots and optical scanners, with ballot marking devices for accessibility; ballot marking devices for all voters; and DRE voting machines with VVPAT paper records for all 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.
“When determining the public count, the board must include all relevant categories of ballots, including regular ballots (VVPAT and/or optical scan paper ballots), counted provisional ballots (whether cast in person before, or on, Election Day), and counted absentee ballots of all types for the precinct or polling place.”
The board shall give public notice of the times and places for preparing for and conducting the audit in accordance with section 121.22 of the Revised Code. At all times while the board prepares for and conducts the audit, the board shall permit observers appointed under ORC 3505.21. No person other than a member of the board or a designated employee of the board shall be permitted to handle a ballot. Also, the secretary of state shall make the audit results public on the official web site. See, ORC 3505.331(D)(1).
Audit Counting Method
The hand count requirement for audits is found in Ohio’s Election Officials Manual.
Type Of Audit Units
Percentage-based audits in Ohio use batches; the county board determines whether it will conduct its post-election audit by precinct, by polling place, or by individual voting machine. The audit sample must comprise at least the specified percentage of total votes cast (regardless of the percentage of audit units sampled). Risk-limiting audits may treat either batches or individual ballots as audit units, subject to any additional restrictions imposed by directives from the secretary of state.
Contests & Issues Audited
“After Election Day, the Secretary of State will randomly select at least one other statewide contest to be included in the post-election audit in addition to the “top of the ticket” contest (e.g., President). Further, in addition to any contest selected by the Secretary of State, the board of elections must randomly select at least one other contest (candidate contest or question/issue contest), preferably from the universe of all countywide contests, unless circumstances (i.e., no, or only one, countywide contest) necessitate the selection of some other contest.”
For a percentage-based audit, the statute requires the Secretary of State to specify minimum accuracy rates below which an audit will escalate. Under the procedures in place as of September 2020 (which could be revised at any time), “A county is required to escalate an audit if its accuracy rate is less than 99.5% in a contest with a certified margin that is at least 1%…or less than 99.8% in a contest with a certified margin that is smaller than 1%. Escalation entails drawing a second random sample of at least 5% of votes cast, selected from units that were not audited in the original sample…. If, after the second round of auditing, the accuracy rate from the two samples is below 99.5%, the county shall investigate the cause of the discrepancy and report its findings to the Secretary of State’s Office…. In such cases, the Secretary of State’s Office may require a 100% hand-count.” A risk-limiting audit must continue until it attains the risk limit or escalates to a full hand count.
For recount laws, see Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota website
Audits may begin no sooner than six (6) business days after the local election board certifies election results, and no later than twenty-one (21) days after certifying the official results of the election, unless a recount must be conducted. (Certification can occur up to twenty-one (21) days after the election.) If a recount is conducted, the post-election audit must be completed no later than fourteen (14) days after certification of recount results.
Because the audit can lead to a full hand count, we categorize it as concluding before results are finalized. However, the expansive timeline permits audits of presidential audits to be completed after the current “safe harbor” deadline that determine presidential electors.
Binding On Official Outcomes
Even though the audit is conducted after certification, if an audit confirms results that differ from the initial results, the official certified results are to be amended to reflect the results of the audit. The amended results could alter the outcome. (See also “Timeline.”)
Oversight & Conduct
The Secretary of State is responsible for developing regulations and procedures for audits. The random selection and audit are conducted by local election boards. Discrepancies and audit results are also reported to the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State has a retention schedule for all election-related documents and forms. When the results of a particular voting location have been determined and certifications of those results have been signed by precinct officials, the voting location manager shall place the ballots in a sealed container and deliver the ballots to the Board of Elections. For more information, ORC §3505.31, ORC. §3505.26, and Ohio’s Election Officials Manual .
Additional Targeted Samples
Statute does not provide for targeted samples.