The Center for Technology and Civic Life recently launched our newest online series for election officials, a set of three trainings focused on a critical component of election administration: post-election audits. Officials hailing from 21 states, representing over 40 million voting-age citizens, participated in the series, which covered both the traditional post-election audits practiced in most states as well as risk-limiting audits, the emerging standard for post-election audits.
Over the past year folks across our national network told us that post-election audits were a crucial tool for advancing transparent, trustworthy elections -- but were also underutilized and sometimes misunderstood. So, we got to work.
Step 1? We pulled together an incredible project team. We were grateful to work with Joseph Lorenzo Hall and Mauice Turner from the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Jennifer Morrell, who leads the Democracy Fund’s Election Validation Project. From there, the project team co-developed plans for the series. In an effort to keep registration costs low, we also recommitted to offering the series online, allowing more election officials to access this first-of-its-kind training despite tight professional development budgets.
The series begins by asking a simple question: why conduct post-election audits? There are plenty of good answers, and we presented them in a new-to-CTCL format: a short animated video.
The answers, as the video above describes, range from practical benefits like facilitating continuous process improvement to broader societal benefits, such as increased voter trust in the election system.
New to this series was a set of worksheets developed by CTCL and our partners to help election officials assess their current audit practices and create a plan for implementing new strategies in their offices.
Of course, every election office is different, so we included plenty of time for participants to ask questions of our experts and tailor plans to fit their local context. In particular, the courses were flexible enough to welcome officials conducting post-election audits using different methodologies, and even participants from states that don’t require post-election audits.
That’s no small feat. Over the past ten years, states have gradually begun shifting from traditional methodologies that require auditing a fixed percentage of ballots to more statistically valid approaches. The new approaches, generally referred to as risk-limiting audits, are more precise and often more efficient to conduct. The catch? They’re initially more challenging to implement than the older standard.
To clear up some of the confusion about the various methods, CTCL and our partners produced a second video for the series:
This year we also ramped up our assessment of the courses’ impact. While we won’t have a sense of the true impact until we check back with participants in the coming months to understand their progress, initial survey data is promising. For example:
In the 101 course, the number of people who reported being “knowledgeable” or “very knowledgeable” about post-election audit terminology increased 2.3x between the start of the course and its conclusion.
In the 201 course, 100% of survey respondents reported being “knowledgeable” or “very knowledgeable” about post-election processes and procedures at the conclusion of the course, a nearly four-fold increase from course’s start.
In the 301 course, 9 in 10 respondents said they planned to implement at least one best practice related to risk-limiting audits. A third of those election officials committed to advancing seven or more practices.
We’re especially excited about the high number of participants who committed to implementing new practices in their own offices. In the end, that’s what this series is all about: strengthening local elections by providing practical training to the officials who administer them.
What’s next for all this content? Well, as the focus on transparent, trustworthy elections continues to increase across the country, we anticipate growing interest from state and local election officials for post-election audit training. We’re not sure exactly what our offerings will look like, but you’re likely to see an updated version of the online series offered live next year, and perhaps even a self-paced version of the courses.
In the meantime, we’re happy to share portions of the series in smaller chunks as conference presentations. If you’re planning a conference and want us to present about post-election audits, just give us a shout!