DENVER – Denver’s Elections Division is following state law concerning a new, more sound process to ensure accurate election results, according to a recent evaluation. Denver Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien applauds the Elections Division for continuing to be a pioneer in ensuring accurate election results through risk-limiting auditing.
“I’m pleased to see the Elections Division proactively requesting our expertise in an effort to protect the integrity of our election process,” Auditor O’Brien said.
The Elections Division voluntarily requested an evaluation by Auditor O’Brien and his team to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the new risk-limiting auditing procedure. A 2009 state law required implementation of the new process for the 2017 election, and the Elections Division wanted assurance that its new process was in compliance with Colorado’s legal requirements.
The risk-limiting auditing procedure is a way to check after an election to make sure the counting system was accurate and election results are correct. The process is meant to help improve efficiency of election validation by allocating more resources to races with smaller margins of victory. The November 2017 election was the first statewide implementation of the process.
During risk-limiting auditing, the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office chooses a statewide and countywide contest to audit. The Secretary of State considers narrowness of the margin of victory and other factors when choosing the subject of the audit.
The division then manually compares selected batches of ballots from these races to the recorded votes from the ballot scanning machines. When counting the votes on election day, the division stamps each ballot with a unique imprinted ID to allow investigators to pull and track the ballots at a later date. The ballots are separated into batches and election officials track their location in a spreadsheet.
The audit team’s evaluation found the current process fully aligns with state law. Auditors found only three areas where the Elections Division could improve efficiency in the new process.
The evaluation recommends the division work with Salesforce — its current database provider — or some other automated system to end the use of spreadsheets while tracking ballots. Using Excel spreadsheets means humans must manually enter batch data. This puts the process at higher risk for human error. An automated system or extra controls to avoid mistakes such as typos will further ensure the integrity of the process.
The audit team also discovered an inefficiency with the State’s sampling method related to Denver’s two-page ballots. All the races in the last election could not fit on one page. During the counting process, however, each page was individually stamped with a tracking ID without any way to track whether it was page one or two from the complete ballot.
After the election, the audit process calls for random sampling of ballots to ensure correlation between ballots cast and votes recorded. With each page marked individually, there was no way to guarantee every page pulled as part of the auditing sample would have the race that was being audited on it. As a result, the Colorado Secretary of State decided to pull double the number of ballots needed for the sample to ensure accurate confirmation.
While this reinforced the validity of the results, it did not achieve the target of efficiency intended by the implementation of the risk-limiting auditing process.
Finally, the audit team recommended the Elections Division create performance metrics for the risk-limiting auditing process to track the success of the project from year to year.
“Ensuring the integrity of our elections is integral to upholding the pillars of our democracy,” Auditor O’Brien said. “I’m proud to see Denver leading the way nationally to make sure every vote counts the way the voters intended.”
The Elections Division agreed with all recommendations to improve efficiency, and officials said they will continue to improve the process and set an example for elections throughout the country.
“Audit: Checks in place to ensure accuracy of Denver elections” – Colorado Politics – Feb. 22, 2018