Another election, another risk limiting audit for Colorado’s county clerks

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams watches Friday as two staffers with Denver Elections, Drake Rambke, and Stuart Clubb, indicate where ballots were pulled as part of a risk-limiting audit to ensure machines correctly tabulated the way a voter marked a ballot. (SOS photo)

For the second election in a row, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams has overseen a risk-limiting audit designed to catch mistakes if they happened when ballots were tabulated.

The audit of the June 26 primary election involved 20, 10-sided dice, a variety of election officials from across the nation and Colorado county clerks excited to proclaim their results on social media.

Rudy Santos, chief deputy clerk for the Weld County clerk’s offices, watches as election judges Stacey Kjeldgaard, left, a Republican, and Lyn Nelson, a Democrat, conduct their risk-limiting audit in Weld County on Saturday. (SOS photo)

“WooHoo!! Jeffco Risk-Limiting Audit completed!! 263 (ballots) with NO discrepancies!” the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder’s office tweeted Saturday.

“The purpose for all this is so the voters can have trust and confidence in the system,” Williams said.

“There are some people who go into denial whenever they don’t win. ‘Everybody I talked to voted for me. How can I possibly not have won?’ This is part of providing that assurance to folks.”

Some counties are still in the midst of their audits, while others completed theirs last week.

The Secretary of State’s office partnered with Denver Elections for the risk-limiting audit.

Denver Elections Director Amber McReynolds, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams and Denver Clerk and Recorder Deb Johnson at risk-limiting audit activities at Denver Elections Friday afternoon. (SOS photo)

Observers helped rolled dice at the SOS Friday morning to come up with the random seed number clerks used to pull certain ballots.

Among those present were representatives from the various secretaries of state offices and election boards; county election officials from Florida, Texas, and California;  representatives of various election groups and the locally based  National Council of State Legislatures.

Dwight Shellman, the county support manager for the Secretary of State, instructed the dice-rollers to send the die down the middle of the table so it wouldn’t roll off.

“I still haven’t figured out to get a craps table past the state comptroller,” he joked.

The observers then headed to Denver Elections, where they witnessed ballots being pulled based on the seed and compared to the paper record.

Four election staffers with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office are defining the risk-limiting audit Friday at the SOS office. From left to right, Danny Casias, senior voting systems specialist, Jonathan Layman, voting systems specialist, Jessi Romero, voting systems manager, and Edward Morgan, voting systems specialist. (SOS photo)

The Colorado Legislature in 2009 passed a law requiring every county to conduct a risk-limiting audit after a statewide election.

A risk-limiting audit is a procedure that provides strong statistical evidence that the election outcome is right and has a high probability of correcting a wrong outcome. Risk-limiting audits require election officials to examine and verify more ballots in close races and fewer ballots in races with wide margins.

Colorado’s RLA initially stalled because the technology wasn’t available, and then the state had to adjust in 2013 to becoming a mostly all-mail ballot state. The legislature mandated that the statewide audit be conducted after the 2017 coordinated election.

That audit also attracted national attention and led to Williams presenting a video about the procedure to the National Association of Secretaries of State in February at its winter conference.

Judd Choate, the director of elections for the Colorado Secretary of State, with Justus Wendland with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office and Justin Tyree with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office. Behind them are Jerome Lovato with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and Mark Lindeman with Verified Voting. They are at Denver Elections for the Risk-Limiting Audit. (SOS photo)

Amber McReynolds, Denver’s election director, said her organization was proud to partner with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office for the audit.

“Colorado has built an election system that is fair, accessible, secure, transparent, efficient, and reliable,” she said.

“We modernized our voting model and process in 2013 to better serve voters, then we evaluated and implemented new voting systems across the state in 2015, and finally deployed risk-limiting audits in 2017. This was the right progression of steps that has allowed us to innovate, improve the voting experience, and increase public confidence.’

For more information on the RLA process, check out the Audit Center.