Signed into law in 1980, Pennsylvania’s audit law provides for all items on the ballot to be audited on 2% of ballots or 2,000 ballots (whichever is less) in each county, but the audit results are not binding on official results and cannot lead to a full recount. There is no statutory guidance on whether the audit results are binding on official results and no guidance on whether the audit could lead to a full recount.
Under a 2018 settlement agreement, the secretary of state is to direct counties to “audit all unofficial election results using robust pre-certification audit methods,” to be fully implemented by the 2022 general election. Stein v. Cortes, No. 16-CV-6287 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 28, 2018) (SA, III.5). The audits must take place pre-certification and occur automatically. The audits must also be capable of escalation: “If the initial audit fails to rule out a possible outcome-altering error with the requisite level of confidence, additional measures must be undertaken to ensure that there are no outcome-altering errors in the vote.” SA, III.5.d. Based on these requirements and the state’s intent to implement risk-limiting audits statewide in 2022, as noted on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s “Post-Election Audits” webpage, we consider Pennsylvania to be conducting risk-limiting audits as of the 2022 general election.
The state’s audit law remains in place, so any risk-limiting audits will be conducted in addition to the state’s statutorily required audits. The following responses relate primarily to this law, and unless otherwise specified, references are to 25 Pa. Stat. § 3031.17.
Voting Systems Used
Most counties in Pennsylvania use hand marked paper ballots and optical scanners in polling places, with ballot marking devices for accessibility. A few counties use ballot marking devices 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.
There is no statutory guidance on which ballot types are included in the audit. The county board is to select a random sample of at least 2% of the votes cast, or 2,000 votes, whichever is less. 25 Pa. Stat. § 3031.17.
The audit is conducted “as part of the computation and canvass of returns.” 25 Pa. Stat. § 3031.17. The canvass of the returns is only open to those authorized to be present, which includes the candidates and their appointed watchers and attorneys. Watchers are “permitted to keep or check their own computation of the votes cast.” 25 Pa. Stat. § 3153(a); see also 25 Pa. Stat. § 2650. While the outcome of the canvass is made public, there are no provisions specifically stating that the audit results from during the canvass must also be made public.
Audit Counting Method
Pennsylvania uses a mix of machine and hand count. Audits are to be conducted “using manual, mechanical or electronic devices of a type different than those used for the specific election.” 25 Pa. Stat. § 3031.17. No other requirements for the counting method are specified.
Additional counting instructions are provided in a 2011 Directive issued by the secretary of the commonwealth: “For those counties using optical scan electronic voting systems, the county board of elections shall conduct the statistical recount manually.” Secretary of the Commonwealth, Directive Concerning the Use, Implementation and Operation of Electronic Voting Systems by the County Board (June 2011).
Previously, counties using direct recording electronic (DRE) voting systems were instructed to conduct the statistical recount using the ballot images contained in the system. Pennsylvania removed its DRE voting systems from use statewide prior to the 2020 election cycle. We therefore categorize audits in Pennsylvania as entirely manual.
Type of Audit Units
The statute does not specify the audit units or a method for selecting the units to be audited. County practice has varied.
Contests and Issues Audited
Every contest and ballot issue on the ballot is audited. No specific contests or a procedure for randomly selecting contests for auditing is outlined in Pennsylvania’s statute, meaning that, presumably, the entire ballot is audited.
Under the current audit statute, there is no statutory guidance for expanding the audit.
However, the 2018 Settlement Agreement provides: “If the initial audit fails to rule out a possible outcome-altering error with the requisite level of confidence, additional measures must be undertaken to ensure that there are no outcome-altering errors in the vote.” SA, III.5.d. We therefore categorize Pennsylvania as using a risk-limiting audit.
For recount laws, see Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota website.
The audit must be completed before election results are finalized. The audit is completed as part of the canvass of the returns. 25 Pa. Stat. § 3031.17.
Binding on Official Outcomes
Pennsylvania’s audit law provides for all items on the ballot to be audited, but the audit results are not binding on official results and cannot lead to a full recount. There is no statutory guidance on whether the audit results are binding on official results and no guidance on whether the audit could lead to a full recount.
Oversight and Conduct
The county board of elections is responsible for oversight of the 2% audit, as well as conduct of both the audit and the random selection. 25 Pa. Stat. § 3031.17.
At the close of the election and after the tabulation of all ballots, the automatic tabulating equipment or other component of the voting system which contains ballots shall be locked and sealed so that no further ballots may be deposited in or removed from any such equipment or component, and all components of the voting system, suitably packaged and secured for storage, shall be held for delivery to the county election board. Pa. Stat. § 3031.13; see also Pa. Stat. § 3061–3.
Additional Targeted Samples
Statute does not provide for targeted samples.
25 Pa. Stat. § 3031.17 (main audit provision)
Stein v. Cortes, No. 16-CV-6287 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 28, 2018) (Settlement Agreement)
Secretary of the Commonwealth, Directive Concerning the Use, Implementation and Operation of Electronic Voting Systems by the County Board (June 2011)
25 Pa. Stat. § 3153; 25 Pa. Stat. § 2650 (transparency)
Pa. Stat. § 3031.13; Pa. Stat. § 3061–3 (ballot protection)