State to pilot risk-limiting election audits

Election NewsOCTOBER 26, 2018

Secretary Johnson: We must lead on election integrity

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson today announced that the Bureau of Elections will pilot the use of risk-limiting audits in three cities after the 2018 election as part of the state’s comprehensive post-election audit process that verifies voting equipment and election officials performed well.

“With this pilot of risk-liming audits, Michigan further bolsters its reputation as a national leader in election security and integrity,” Johnson said. “With our new election equipment and secure voter file, and now with our pilot of risk-limiting audits, we are well ahead of other states in strengthening election integrity.”

The Bureau of Elections is partnering with three city clerks, Tina Barton in Rochester Hills, Scott Borling in Kalamazoo and Chris Swope in Lansing; staff of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission; and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University and the University of California, Berkeley.

“I thank the clerks in Kalamazoo, Lansing and Rochester Hills for stepping up and being willing to pioneer how these audits could work in Michigan,” Johnson said. “Their participation shows how much election officials across Michigan take election protection seriously and are working to further strengthen voting security and integrity.”

A risk-limiting audit is a comprehensive check that uses statistical methods to confirm whether reported election results are correct and detect possible anomalies that may need further scrutiny due to human error or possible manipulation. Ballots will be randomly selected based on a mathematical formula in the three cities to confirm that the ballot tabulators tallied them correctly.

The goal of the pilot will be to determine how risk-limiting audits could be rolled out statewide. In 2018, the state of Colorado, which has an all mail-in election process, used risk-limiting audits for the first time statewide. Michigan’s highly decentralized elections system features both Election Day and absentee voting administered by the 1,520 city and township clerks across the state, which is unique for a state of Michigan’s population and geographic size. Other states, including Rhode Island and Virginia, will start using them statewide in future election cycles.

Michigan’s elections system already incorporates many important recommendations by national security and cybersecurity experts, including the use of paper ballots, mandatory pre-election testing on all voting equipment used in every election and performance-based audits that also verify that key pre-election, Election Day and post-election day tasks are successfully completed.

Under Johnson’s leadership, Michigan has:

  • Rolled out all new voting equipment statewide at no upfront cost to local communities.
  • Launched a new, more secure Qualified Voter File that stores voter and other election data.
  • Started post-election audits in 2012 to verify that election officials are performing their duties well and identifying where more training is needed. The audits are being looked at as a national model.
  • Mandatory training for city and township clerks and staff who administer elections.
  • Strengthened relations with state and federal law-enforcement and homeland-security agencies.
  • Expanded cybersecurity training for local election officials and a cybersecurity team that meets regularly to discuss threats and vulnerabilities.
  • Hired an outside firm to conduct a security review of state, county and local election-related systems to identify potential vulnerabilities and methods to mitigate them

“We have carefully reviewed and improved our systems, and we are putting $11.2 million of security grants toward further strengthening them against attack,” Johnson said. “Risk-limiting audits will be another important tool we’ll use to defend and strengthen election integrity in Michigan.”

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