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Implementing Risk-Limiting Audits in California


Risk-limiting post-election audits limit the chance of certifying an electoral outcome if the outcome is not what a full hand count would show. Building on previous work, we report on pilot risk-limiting audits in four elections during 2008 in three California counties: one during the February 2008 Primary Election in Marin County and three during the November 2008 General Elections in Marin, Santa Cruz and Yolo Counties. We explain what makes an audit risk-limiting and how existing and proposed laws fall short. We discuss the differences among our four pilot audits. We identify challenges to practical, efficient risk-limiting audits and conclude that current approaches are too complex to be used routinely on a large scale. One important logistical bottleneck is the difficulty of exporting data from commercial election management systems in a format amenable to audit calculations. Finally, we propose a bare-bones risk-limiting audit that is less efficient than these pilot audits, but avoids many practical problems.

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