Election Audits

  • Jennifer Morrell
Part of the Elections, Voting, Technology book series (EVT)


Auditing standards can and should be applied to election administration. They provide a way for election officials to detect errors in the voting equipment, provide accountability to voters, deter fraudulent activity, limit the risk of certifying an incorrect outcome, provide assurance that votes were counted and reported accurately, and provide feedback to the election official for process improvement. A risk-limiting audit (RLA) is a post-election tabulation audit in which a random sample of voted ballots is manually examined for evidence that the outcome of the election is correct. Some of the key terms and definitions for understanding how an RLA works include the risk limit, diluted margin, target contest, cast vote record (CVR) and ballot manifest. The two main methods of conducting an RLA are ballot-level comparison and ballot polling audits. A ballot-level comparison audit compares the markings on each voted ballot to the electronic interpretation of that ballot. A ballot polling audit examines the markings on randomly selected ballots to confirm the outcome is correct. Developing RLA policy can be challenging and requires drafting language that can be understood by the non-RLA expert while not undermining good auditing practice. The RLA process is still in its infancy and continues to evolve. End-to-end auditing of the full election process should not be overlooked


Election Audits Risk-limiting Policy Technology 


  1. Byrnes, Paul Eric, Abdullah Al-Awadhi, Benita Gullvist, Helen Brown Liburd, Ryan Teeter, J. Donald Warren Jr., and Miklos Vasarhelyi, “Evolution of Auditing: From the Traditional Approach to the Future Audit.” American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, 2012. Accessed January 9, 2019.
  2. Democracy Fund. “Election Administration & Voting.” Accessed January 9, 2019.
  3. Lindeman, Mark, and Philip B. Stark. “A Gentle Introduction to Risk-Limiting Audits.” IEEE Security and Privacy, Special Issue on Electronic Voting, 10, no. 5 (2012) 42–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. “AS 1105: Audit Evidence.” Accessed January 9, 2019.
  5. Sridhar, Mayuri, and Ronald Rivest. “k-Cut: A Simple Approximately-Uniform Method for Sampling Ballots in Post-election Audits”. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Accessed January 9, 2019.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer Morrell
    • 1
  1. 1.Democracy FundWashingtonUSA

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