As lawmakers debate proposed changes to Ohio’s election system, the Secretary of State’s Office is planning ahead on ensuring future election results are accurate. 

County boards of elections conduct General Election audits in midterm and presidential years, in accordance with state law. The results announced on election night are “unofficial” until they are officially certified by elections workers.

The audits help to make sure Ohio reports the correct winners through comparing a sample of paper ballots with the results produced by tabulation machine.

Ohio has traditionally used a system wherein elections officials choose certain voting precincts and review five percent of the total votes cast in a given county.

States are now embracing a more efficient way to conduct these audits using sophisticated computer software.

This new “Risk-Limiting Audit” system considers the margin of victory in a given race. To put it simply, officials don’t need to spend as much time auditing a large sample of ballots to verify a blowout election result.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are a handful of states that have switched to conducting audits this way. NCSL sums it up this way: “If the margin is larger, fewer ballots need to be counted. If the race is tighter, more ballots are audited.”

The software does much of the work, taking the election margin and spitting out a corresponding number of ballots necessary to check in order to conclude the result was correct with a high degree of confidence. With a number of ballots in mind, the program selects individual paper ballots at random for elections workers to check.

The Ohio Secretary of State’s office requested around $166,000 in funds for a contract with a California-based nonprofit vendor known as Voting Works to help conduct these “Risk-Limiting Audits” in all 88 counties. Lawmakers on the Ohio Controlling Board approved the contract Monday.

The request stated VotingWorks is the only source available for this program and stated the new auditing method “enhances the security and integrity of the election.” Two Ohio counties have already piloted the system

The funds will be paid for by federal grant dollars from 2020 Help America Vote Act.

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.