Campaigns & Elections

Pennsylvania’s election audit starts with a roll of the dice

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

Commonwealth Media Services

What do Bruce Springsteen and the start of Pennsylvania’s election audits have in common? Just another roll of the dice. 

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

That seed number is subsequently entered into Arlo, an audit software tool used to select random batches of ballots for auditors in each county to manually review. Following that, the auditors will 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 have 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.

Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt and Jonathan Marks, deputy secretary for elections and commissions, oversaw the dice-rolling and explained how risk-limiting audits are conducted. 

Schmidt 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.

“We have several safeguards in place to ensure that our voting systems provide accurate results. Before every election, counties conduct logic and accuracy testing on their voting systems by testing sample batches of ballots to determine whether their machines are recording votes correctly,” Schmidt said Thursday. “And now, after the election but before I certify the results, the RLA provides additional validation to give us confidence that the reported outcome is correct.”

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 45030941235188209407. 

That seed number will be used to determine which batches of ballots counties will audit over the next few days. Counties must complete the RLA by Nov. 24, and they must certify all election results to Schmidt by Nov. 27.