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PA's first enhanced statewide election audit confirms Presidential primary outcome

PA's first enhanced statewide election audit confirms Presidential primary outcome | Photo Credit: Getty Images
PA's first enhanced statewide election audit confirms Presidential primary outcome | Photo Credit: Getty Images
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Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar announced today Pennsylvania’s first statewide enhanced post-election audit overwhelmingly confirmed the outcome of both the Democratic and Republican Presidential Primary races.

Counties conducted an audit using a statistical sample of 400 ballots cast in the June 2, 2020, presidential primary that were randomly selected from across the state. Based on the results of this random sampling, the chance that the audit gave a false-positive result is less than 0.1 percent.

“Election officials across the state did a great job piloting this important election audit, to provide Pennsylvania voters with an extra level of confidence in the outcome of elections in an unprecedented year,” Secretary Boockvar said. “Audits complement our existing election security safeguards and further strengthen the commonwealth’s ability to withstand an attack on or challenge to its electoral system and confirm that the outcome of an election is accurate.”

Pennsylvania is one of the first states in the nation to pioneer pilots of the risk-limiting audit (RLA), a scientifically designed procedure using statistical methods to confirm whether reported election outcomes are correct and to detect possible interference. RLAs examine a random sample of paper ballots, comparing the votes on paper to the totals reported by the vote-counting machines to ensure that the winner actually won. These types of audits can confirm that voting systems tabulated the paper ballots accurately enough that a full hand count would produce the same outcome.

County election officials, Department of State staff, and election experts from VotingWorks, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and Verified Voting participated in developing and implementing the pilot audit.

“VotingWorks is proud to support Pennsylvania in this historic, statewide risk-limiting audit pilot,” said Ginny Vander Roest, election implementation manager, VotingWorks. “County election administrators across the state came together to make this important election security measure a priority.”

Robust post-election audits have been recommended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee, and many other experts as one part of a strong and resilient election infrastructure.

“Like anything, preparation up front makes the process easy. The work that we put in during canvassing, logging and organizing our ballots made the risk-limiting audit pilot quick, easy and painless,” said Tim Benyo, chief clerk, Lehigh County Election Board. “Risk-limiting audits are a fantastic way to ensure votes cast were tabulated accurately. Any tool Pennsylvania has to promote confidence in the accuracy of our work is a tool we need to use."

The success of this first enhanced statewide audit will provide the post-election audit workgroup with valuable information that it can use to continue to develop auditing practices and procedures that advance election security and integrity across the Commonwealth.

“Pennsylvania’s first statewide risk-limiting audit pilot is an important step forward in the Keystone State’s efforts to make voting safe and secure for all voters this November,” said Liz Howard, senior counsel, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “We’re proud to partner with state and local election officials to help them implement the ‘gold standard’ of post-election audits to protect voter confidence in the integrity of our elections.”

Over the past two years, the Department of State certified seven new voting systems that provide a paper record of each vote cast, meet the latest standards of security and accessibility, and can be thoroughly audited. All counties had implemented new voting systems in time for the 2020 primary. Previous County RLA pilots were held successfully in Mercer and Philadelphia counties in 2019.

"We are again happy to participate in the piloting of a risk-limiting audit and look forward to working with officials from around the state in making this type of audit a permanent fixture after all elections going forward,” said Lisa Deeley, chairwoman, Philadelphia City Commissioners. “These cutting-edge risk-limiting audits help us demonstrate to voters that their votes counted and were counted accurately."

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In addition, in Pennsylvania every voting system and paper ballot must include plain text that voters can read to verify their choices before casting their ballot, and every system has successfully completed penetration testing, access-control testing and testing to ensure that every access point, software and firmware are protected from tampering. Many other important recommendations by national security and cybersecurity experts are in place in Pennsylvania, including mandatory pre-election testing of all voting equipment before every election.

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