Arizona ballot

An "I voted" sticker accompanied 2020 election ballots sent out by official election mail in Maricopa County. 

(The Center Square) – At the request of Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, two organizations analyzed the state’s election audit process and found room for improvement.

The Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy organization, and the R Street Institute, a nonprofit focused on free-market initiatives such as Arizona’s occupational licensing reforms, released a report Monday that said Arizona’s election laws need changes.

They stressed the state’s 2020 general election was held safely and securely, but a political party can quash a post-election audit if it refuses to participate. Doing so is called an “audit stop order,” and it happened in five Arizona counties in the last election.

“Audits give election officials the opportunity to check for potentially serious errors or security breaches and to reassure the public that they can be confident in the election results,” the report said. “Given the importance of post-election audits as a tool for retaining voters’ confidence and the state’s extensive experience performing audits, Arizona should eliminate the statutory audit stop order and require post-election audits after all primary, special, and general elections. The state should continue to encourage and authorize participation by political parties, but no post-election audit should be contingent on political party participation.”

In place of the state’s mandatory hand-count audits, the organizations suggested risk-limiting audits that they say call a “check on the election outcome.” 

They describe the process as auditing with a specific goal of confidence in mind.

“Statistical principles determine the size of the sample – but, in plain terms, more ballots are counted in a close race, while a race with a larger margin of victory would require fewer ballots to be counted," the report said. "If testing of the sample is consistent with the original reported vote total, it is almost certain that the initially declared winner actually won the race.”

If the race is close and more discrepancies are found, the audit continues until either the results are satisfied or all ballots have been manually counted. Arizona’s current practice often results in recounts of lopsided races, wasting taxpayer resources on decided contests. 

Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania have conducted or are planning pilots of risk-limit auditing.

According to report author Paul Rosenzweig with R Street, the cost to taxpayers would be around $30,000 annually for software developed in 2019 in partnership with the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, in addition to other nominal material costs.

Regional Editor

Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.