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Verified Voting's Risk-Limiting Audit Messaging Guide for Election Officials

Date: updated May 24, 2022
Author: Verified Voting
Issue: Post-Election Audit

Publication Summary

A messaging guide to help election officials talk to their constituents, the press, and other key stakeholders about risk-limiting audits.

Framework

  • Remind the public of the why – RLAs are for voters and people in the community
  • Explain the how – choose simple terminology and use it consistently
  • Keep it local – highlight the real folks in the community who conducted the election and who are now conducting the audit
  • Emphasize transparency – welcome observers and publicize the process from beginning to end

Sample Talking Pointstailor and vet for your own jurisdiction 

  • Our democracy depends on all voters like you having concrete evidence that your vote – and every vote – counts
  • Post-election audits do just that – they are a rigorous process that double checks the election results, and they are conducted and observed by people in our community
  • Think of audits like a spot check – they randomly check a sample of ballots against the unofficial election results
  • Audits work with other election security and testing procedures that we have in place to provide an additional level of assurance
  • The audit that we’re doing, called a risk-limiting audit or “RLA”, is considered the “best of the best”
  • We’re one of only a handful of states in the nation using this cutting edge, proven method, which is endorsed by trusted government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and a cross partisan range of election security groups
  • We want you to come observe the process and see for yourself how it works – the information for observing is advertised at [WEBSITE]
  • We’ll report the RLA’s outcome on [DATE/TIME] at [LOCATION/WEBSITE]
  • You should also follow us on [TWITTER HANDLE] for live updates
  • You can read more about the process at [LINK TO PRESS RELEASE]

Sample “Process” Talking Points 

  • The results reported out on election night are just the unofficial “machine-counted” election results, and this audit will check that the unofficial results match the actual paper ballots that voters cast
  • A [bipartisan/nonpartisan] group of election workers from our community will be counting a random sample of paper ballots [hand-to-eye / using their eyes] and checking the audit totals against the unofficial results
  • The computers that tally results are highly accurate, and this audit provides a solid check on the initial vote counts. If the audit results don’t match the unofficial results, we will audit more ballots, up to a full hand count of ballots before the results are certified to ensure the certified results are accurate

Quick Hits 

  • RLAs promote public confidence in election outcomes and public confidence in our democracy
  • RLAs check that the winners won and the losers lost
  • RLAs ensure the integrity of the election results
  • RLAs provide solid evidence that the reported election outcomes are correct
  • RLAs are transparent and observable by the public
  • RLAs are cost-efficient and save taxpayer dollars

RLA Pilots

  • RLA pilots are “test runs” that happen in election jurisdictions across the country that are not binding on the election outcome
  • RLA pilots help election workers prepare for full RLAs in larger elections
  • RLA pilots are also an opportunity for the elections office to communicate to constituents about the importance of post-election audits, including RLAs, and show that the processes are observable and transparent

Want a deeper dive? Here’s how RLAs differ from other audits:

  • Unlike some procedures that simply rescan and retabulate ballots, RLAs examine paper ballots hand-to-eye to ensure that machine-tabulated results align with the paper ballots
  • RLAs are designed to provide high assurance of correct election outcomes even in close contests
  • An RLA can also trigger a full hand recount if the sampled ballots do not match the reported outcome
  • RLAs allow jurisdictions to save time and resources by checking more ballots when needed in close contests, and fewer ballots in contests with wider margins
  • Read more about how true audits like RLAs are different from sham reviews here

Terminology

  • Tabulation audit – Provides a routine check on the accuracy of the tabulation of votes by manually comparing voter-verifiable paper ballots to the computer-reported results
  • Risk limit – The “risk limit” describes the chance that the audit is wrong. For instance, a 5% risk limit means that if the election outcome is wrong, the chance that the audit will mistakenly confirm it is 5% or less. We usually avoid these specifics with a general audience
  • Recount – A full recount means counting all of the ballots, while an audit only entails counting some of the ballots. Post-election audits that detect errors can lead to a full recount if the outcome is in doubt
  • Sample size & margin of victory – Close contests, where the winner’s margin of victory is small, require looking at larger samples of ballots to check the outcome

Who Endorses RLAs – A Non-Exhaustive List

  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee
  • U.S. Election Assistance Commission
  • Presidential Commission on Election Administration
  • American Statistical Association
  • R Street Institute
  • League of Women Voters

For more information on risk-limiting audits, visit www.verifiedvoting.org/audits. For questions or feedback on messaging, contact Verified Voting Communications Officer Corrie Emerson at corrie@verifiedvoting.org.