Verified Voting's Risk-Limiting Audit Communications Guide

Date: September 28, 2020
Author: Verified Voting
Issue: Post-Election Audit

Publication Summary

You don’t need to be a math expert to talk about risk-limiting audits. Use our messaging guide to talk about RLAs to your constituents, the press, and other key stakeholders.

Basic 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-limiting audit – A specific type of tabulation audit that checks a random sample of voter-verifiable paper ballots. RLAs can give strong assurance that the reported outcome is what a full hand count would find.
  • Risk-limiting audit pilot – RLA pilots help election officials learn how to prepare for RLAs in larger elections, and show the general public that the process is observable and transparent.
  • 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 Else Endorses RLAs – A Non-Exhaustive List:

  • American Statistical Association
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee
  • U.S. Election Assistance Commission
  • Brennan Center for Justice
  • Common Cause
  • League of Women Voters
  • Presidential Commission on Election Administration

 RLA Keywords:

  • Gold standard
  • Statistically sound
  • Efficient
  • Cost-effective
  • A tailored approach

 What can you say about an RLA?

  • An RLA provides solid evidence that the reported election outcomes are correct.
  • An RLA can also trigger a full hand recount if the sampled ballots do not match the reported outcome.
  • An RLA promotes public confidence in election outcomes and public confidence in our democracy.
  • An RLA checks that the ballots were counted accurately.
  • RLAs are transparent and observable by the public.
  • An RLA is a tool for election officials.

What can’t you say about an RLA?

Because RLAs rely on the ballots, they can only do so much. They can’t do the following: 

  • Establish that the voting system is inherently secure and reliable.
  • Confirm that voter intent was recorded accurately.
  • Show that voters were not disenfranchised.

Read more about audits and RLAs at:


Questions? Feedback?

Contact Verified Voting Communications Officer Corrie Emerson at