For release: November 18, 2021
Public Information Officer
Direct: 303-734-5466; Cell: 720-635-9350
Arapahoe County conducts successful post-election audit of ballots
Elections Division offers Q & A to explain nonpartisan process
Nov. 18, 2021—Arapahoe County Elections, a division of the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, announced today that it successfully completed its risk-limiting audit of the 2021 Coordinated Election on Tuesday, Nov. 16.
The bipartisan audit process compares randomly selected paper ballots to election results reported to the Secretary of State (SOS) and ensures with statistical accuracy that those results are correct.
Appointees from the Arapahoe County Republican and Democratic parties both certified that the process was successful and its results were accurate.
To further explain how these audits work, the Elections division recently released a video and offered the following list of frequently asked questions and answers:
Q: Who selects which “target contests” are audited?
A: After every election, the Secretary of State’s office announces the target contests for the audit the Friday before audits begin. (In 2021, this was on Friday, Nov. 5.) The SOS must choose at least one statewide candidate or ballot measure, and at least one other county-level contest. County officials do not choose contests. The target contests are used to determine the number of ballots the county needs to examine during the RLA and discrepancies in the target races are used to determine if additional rounds of auditing are necessary. However, all races in the election for the county are part of the audit.
Q: Who decides which ballots will be audited?
A: In a public meeting, SOS representatives roll 10-sided dice to create a random seed number. Each county is then provided a list of the ballot numbers created by a pseudo-random number generator using the seed number. The random ballots to be examined are drawn from across the county, they include every contest on those ballots, not just the target contests. Bipartisan teams then pull ballots containing those unique identifying numbers for comparison to electronic results.
Q: How does the comparison work?
A: In every county, bipartisan teams enter votes as they appear on paper ballots into a software program administered by the SOS. The program alerts the SOS office if there is a discrepancy between the votes on record and the votes entered by the teams. All votes—in every contest—are entered into the RLA software and compared to the cast-vote record (CVR). Any discrepancies are flagged for research after the audit has concluded. At the end of each county’s audit, the SOS will notify the county if there were discrepancies sufficient to demand a second round of audits on either the county-level or the statewide target contest. All discrepancies in all contests are included in the post-election discrepancy report.
Q: Can an audit reveal that vote totals of a specific contest are wrong?
A: No. An audit confirms that the overall results of the election in all races are correct within a statistical level of confidence. The 2021 Coordinated Election audit had a 3 percent risk-limit, which means that 97 times out of 100 the audit would catch any incorrect outcome and correct it. The successful audit this year statewide means there is that high level of confidence in the outcome of the 2021 election. A recount, which can be requested by a candidate or issue committee, can be conducted to verify the exact vote totals in individual contests. If a contest in a given county is within a very narrow margin (0.5 percent), that county must conduct a statutory mandatory recount.
Q: Have risk-limiting audits ever shown that results do not match SOS vote records?
A: No. Colorado has conducted risk-limiting audits since 2017 (Arapahoe County piloted the process in 2013). In that time, every audit has shown that voter totals from paper ballots match the results in the SOS electronic record, and that any discrepancies that occurred were attributable to human error. There have not been any cases since Colorado began doing risk-limiting audits in which a discrepancy was the product of the voting system switching votes or otherwise not working as intended.
Q: Can the public participate in this process?
A: Yes. Risk-limiting audits are open to public observers. Audit results for every county in Colorado from the 2021 election and previous elections dating back to 2017 are available to the public on the SOS website’s Audit Center.
On Wednesday, Nov. 17, the Secretary of State’s Office announced all other counties’ audits were also successful. The final step in the elections process is for each county to certify results in a bipartisan review of election data known as a “canvass.” Arapahoe County’s canvass will take place on Friday, Nov. 19 at 9 a.m. and will be livestreamed on the Clerk’s Facebook page.