Campaigns & Elections

How ten-sided dice play into Pennsylvania’s post-election audit

Department of State officials rolled ten-sided dice to generate a seed number needed for a post-election audit.

A Department of State employee places a 10-sided die on the table during the department’s dice rolling event.

A Department of State employee places a 10-sided die on the table during the department’s dice rolling event. Commonwealth Media Services

On Thursday, officials at the Pennsylvania Department of State rolled the dice. Literally. 

To kick off the state’s post-election audit of this month’s race for governor, department staff rolled 20 ten-sided dice to create a “seed number” used to randomly select batches of ballots to audit. 

That seed number will then be entered into Arlo, an audit software tool used to select random batches of ballots for auditors in each county to manually review. The auditors will then conduct a hand tally of the votes cast for governor in each batch, according to Department of State officials. 

The department will then compile the results of the audit and determine whether the statistical criteria needed to confirm the election results has been met. 

The audit, known as a risk-limiting audit or RLA, involves auditing a randomly-selected batch of ballots to confirm the outcome of the election. The number of ballots audited depends on how wide the margin was in a particular race.

On Sept. 30, Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of State Leigh Chapman issued a directive ordering all 67 county election boards to participate in the statewide audit, directing county election officials to develop bipartisan teams of auditors who will manually review and tally votes. They will then be compared with machine counts. 

Chapman and Jonathan Marks, deputy secretary for elections and commissions, oversaw the dice rolling and explained how risk-limiting audits are conducted. 

Chapman said risk-limiting audits are the “gold standard” of election audits and come recommended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

“They take advantage of the best of what machine-generated results and hand-to-paper auditing have to offer in a world where both are necessary to manage the complexity of modern elections,” Chapman said of the audits. “RLAs allow us to have confidence that we can rely on our voting systems to tell us the right winner.”

On Thursday, after a brief explanation of how the audits work, Department of State staff then proceeded to roll 20 dice, one by one, to determine the 20-digit seed number that will be used to select the ballots to audit. 

The seed number was 47131557664923981393.

The dice rolling was overseen by Pam Iovino, a former state senator who now serves as the department’s executive deputy secretary. 

Based on Chapman’s guidance in September, the audit must be finished before a county board of election finalizes official election returns – and no later than the third Monday following the election.