Election audits

When you get the poll numbers, you aren’t often getting the whole story. It’s one thing to know what percentage or how many people voted for a candidate or legislation, but many citizens feel like the transparency could be better for election results. The State of Colorado believes in the same line of thinking as the public and has now become the first state in the U.S. top perform risk-limiting audits of all statewide election results.

The idea behind the audits is to head off potential voter fraud by looking at statistical evidence that helps to help confirm if an election’s results are correct. Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams celebrates the new technique and believes it will help create a more reliable election system. “We’re here to celebrate the fact that we’ve finally reached this milestone in our nation,” he said. Colorado’s program comes on the heels of 2016 election results in which President Trump stated incorrectly that millions of illegal votes were cast and in which U.S. officials have confirmed that Russian meddling might have influenced state and national election results.

The kickoff for the audit used a demonstration with a Rockies and Broncos hat to explain how the system works. A unique system is used to randomly decide a number or ‘seed’ which is fed into the auditing program. The program uses that random seed to highlight a unique set of ballots. The closer the results of the election are, the more seeds are put into the program. Human officials compare hand-counted ballots to the counts of the machine to help match the numbers.

The program, developed by University of California Berkley Professor Philip Stark, differs from most auditing in that it assumes election results are wrong. “You start by assuming that the answer is wrong, you start by assuming that the reported winner didn’t win,” he explained. From there, local officials work backward. “Then you start saying ‘I’m going to collect evidence,’ and if the evidence becomes convincing that the winner did win, I get to stop auditing.”

Colorado officials state the new program will help keep future Colorado election results accurate and can help save Colorado taxpayers money by avoiding manual recounts. “This is in many ways a new day for ensuring the integrity of elections,” said Secretary Williams.