Ballot audit in ArapCo created to build voter confidence

The new audit works to ensure the machines that count votes are accurately reading paper ballots submitted by voters. The machine logs how each ballot is counted and allows clerk and recorders to compare by hand how each paper ballot was read by the machine to find any errors

AURORA | With the 2017 election, Colorado has moved to the forefront in the country of ensuring the accuracy and security of voting.

This most recent election marked the first time a new risk-limiting audit of votes has been used across the state. And Arapahoe County was on the frontline of integrating the new system in the state, so much so that Rhode Island and outside groups interested in voting integrity came to the county over the past weekend to watch how Arapahoe’s system works.

The new audit works to ensure the machines that count votes are accurately reading paper ballots submitted by voters. The machine logs how each ballot is counted and allows clerk and recorders to compare by hand how each paper ballot was read by the machine to find any errors.

Arapahoe County began auditing with the new system back in 2013 and has worked to streamline the process before it went statewide. The new system came about after legislation was passed in 2009.

“We want people to know that election administrators are working very hard to build more integrity into the process and this is a key component to that,” said Matt Crane, Arapahoe Clerk and Recorder.

For the audit, the Secretary of State’s office identifies ballots out of specific batches that were scanned by specific tabulating machines. The clerk and recorder’s office then examines the paper ballot with the machine’s reading to verify there are no errors. If a tabulation machine is corrupted, whether by system error or by outside influence, there would be a paper trail to let clerk and recorders offices know.

The Department of Homeland Security found Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election didn’t affect any actual vote tallies. But if an outside force, such as a foreign hacker, were able to breach the security of vote tabulating machines and alter the results, there would be ample evidence to spot the changes and start an investigation into the hack.

Arapahoe’s audit for this election only took several hours even with outside observers needing to be shown how the process works and no errors were found.

Crane said the previous system for auditing voting elections didn’t check how the vote tabulating machines were actually performing. The new system adds that extra layer of security and confidence into the process.

“The process for insuring the integrity of elections has always been something that’s important. (Previously) we’ve tested machines before and after being used,” said Wayne Williams, Colorado’s Secretary of State, during a conference call on the new audit on Nov. 15. “In order to do an accurate review you needed to have a system that captures the way specific ballots were counted.”

Given the focus on voting integrity and security after the 2016 election, Crane said it’s important not only to secure the voting system but also to make sure people have confidence in their vote being accurately counted.

“From what I’m hearing from my colleagues across the state, this process has gone very well. I think we got some good lessons learned for the primary process in June,” Crane said.