Follow Us

Politicians of all stripes focus on post-election audits before 2024 general election even happens

Anticipating trouble or trying to prevent it? Virginia, Alabama, and Georgia are all considering changes to their respective states' post-election audits.

Published: March 19, 2024 11:02pm

Various state legislators are focusing on post-election audits ahead of the November 2024 general election, with Republicans looking to implement or improve audits in some states, while Democrats in one state are trying to prevent an audit of the presidential election.

Post-election audits have been on the books of some states for years, most famously, the "hanging chad recount" fought over in 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. The issue of post-election audits and the ensuing litigation has received renewed attention since the 2020 presidential election, after numerous irregularities were discovered. The Arizona Senate post-election audit was one of the more famous following the 2020 race. Dispositive evidence that irregularities "moved the needle" one way or another is still a point of contention. 

As a result, some red states are focusing on improving their post-election audits this year, while the state legislature in Virginia, a purple state, is trying to limit which races can have post-election audits.

The Democrat-led Virginia General Assembly is attempting to prevent a post-election audit of the 2024 presidential election in an amendment to the state budget, the Virginia Mercury reported.

The budget amendment states that “a risk-limiting audit of a presidential election or an election for the nomination of candidates for the office of president shall not be conducted.” Virginia law requires risk-limiting audits following some elections to verify voting equipment accuracy.

The audit includes hand counting “of randomly sampled printed ballots that continues until there is either strong statistical evidence that the reported outcome is correct or, in the absence of such evidence, a full hand count of all ballots cast in the contested race that determines the outcome,” according to the state law.

The 2020 presidential election audit in Virginia occurred after the certification of election results, but a 2022 law requires audits be completed prior to the election results certification.

Virginia Del. Mark Sickles (D) said that the budget amendment clarifies that an audit won’t prevent the state from certifying the outcome in the presidential election according to the federal timeline for the Electoral College.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said Thursday that the budget is a “broken” plan with a $2.6 billion tax hike over two years and that he’s looking to work with lawmakers on revisions. The day before, his office said that Youngkin “has been committed to restoring Virginians’ faith in our elections and improving the voting processes,” including “using all the tools at our disposal to ensure the integrity of our elections.”

Meanwhile, the Alabama state legislature is considering a bill that would require “a post-election audit after every county and statewide general election to determine the accuracy of the originally reported results of the election,” according to the legislation.

The bill requires county probate judges to conduct a “manual tally of all ballots in at least one randomly selected precinct for one randomly selected countywide or statewide race that appeared on the ballot and is not subject to a recount or election contest.”

As Alabama looks to implement post-election audits, Brad Raffensperger, the Republican Secretary of State for Georgia is requesting that the state Senate provide funding for new technology to audit elections. The new audit tool would allow election officials “to audit the text of every choice on every ballot, in every contest - without the use of QR codes,” according to Raffensperger's office.

In Georgia’s elections, QR codes are printed on paper ballots, which are then read by ballot scanners to tabulate the votes. The QR codes have been the subject of concern for some election integrity advocates, since voters are unable to read the codes themselves to know if the ballot marking devices recorded their votes correctly.

The Georgia secretary of state’s office said that it would take six to nine months to remove QR codes from ballots and cost about $25 million to change the necessary software and hardware systems. The audit tool that Raffensperger is requesting funding for would be implemented after the 2024 election and work in conjunction with the state’s risk-limiting audits.

Most states allow or require post-election audits in certain circumstances. The total number of states that have post-election audits is 41, plus Washington, D.C. The states that don't have them are Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.

The primary post-election audits that states use are traditional audits and risk-limiting audits.

In traditional audits, a fixed percentage of voting districts or voting machines are examined, comparing the paper record to the results that the voting system produced. However, in risk-limiting audits, statistical principles and methods are used to provide statistical confidence in the election result, thereby limiting the risk of an incorrect outcome. Thus, in elections with large margins, fewer ballots need to be counted, in contrast to races with smaller margins, which require the auditing of more ballots.

At least 37 states conduct traditional audits, with some states allowing counties to perform risk-limiting audits instead of traditional audits.

The Honest Elections Project released a report in January, listing 14 election reforms that states should implement. One of the reforms is to “Require transparency and robust post-election audits of election processes and procedures.” According to the report, “Election audits should go beyond merely confirming results, and ensure that election laws, policies, and procedures are properly followed.”

For states to have effective post-election audits, the report enumerates several requirements:

  • They should be conducted routinely;
  • After each general election, states’ chief election officers should produce public reports that evaluate the performance of equipment, officials, and identify major issues while recommending reforms;
  • There should be a paper trail produced by voting machines that voters can verify and audit, as well as a full chain of custody for all ballots with multiparty teams;
  • A public forum for voting machine audits and pre- and post-election logic and accuracy testing of them, while ensuring voting equipment is sealed during voting; and
  • All stages of voting, processing, and tabulation should be observable.

At this point it is not clear which states will make it easier or more difficult for audits to happen, but it is almost certain that both parties will — depending on the election results — end up arguing their positions in court. 

Just the News Spotlight