A secure auditable paper trail is a key component of a risk-limiting audit. The following instructions are recommendations for managing and reconciling batches of ballots to facilitate better RLAs.
Many batches of ballots are created by circumstance. Ballots voted at a precinct on Election Day, vote center ballots collected at various times during early voting periods, centrally tabulated ballots by the number a scanner can tabulate in one pass, etc. Methodically storing ballots in smaller batches (when possible) will allow for easier reconcilation, ballot manifest creation, and RLA ballot retrieval. The more precise your ballot storage, the more RLA audit types you can utilize.
Ballots processed in a precinct or vote centers on Election Day are generally all stored together in one batch and keeping the ballots in the order they were scanned is not possible. The number of ballots tabulated should be compared to the number of voters issued ballots (excluding ballots not tabulated like provisionals). If multiple tabulators were used in a precinct, batching and storing the ballots by tabulator provides a way to store the ballots in smaller batches. They can be placed in the same container as long as the batches are clearly bundled and labeled (internally and externally).
Ballots processed in early voting sites over a period of time are generally stored when tabulator bins are full or at certain points in time. Batching and storing the ballots by tabulator and date will allow for regular reconciliation and smaller batches. They can be placed in the same container (re-securing each time a batch is added) as long as the batches are clearly bundled and labeled (internally and externally).
Ballots processed in a central location can be managed and stored in well defined batches. Some jurisdictions choose to pre-sort mail ballots by precinct, ballot style, or date returned. Batching as ballots are returned and processing as a batch from check-in, signature verification, envelope opening, through to tabulation.
Storing centrally scanned ballots in the exact order they were scanned allows a jurisdiction with a high speed tabulator to conduct a hybrid or ballot comparison RLA audit type.
Precincts, vote centers, and early voting sites should at a minimum document and reconcile the number of ballots tabulated with the number of voters checked in. Use a simple precinct reconciliation form like the one displayed below. When ballots are able to be further batched by tabulator or date, this form can be modified to include multiple public counter boxes and tabulator ID numbers or set up in a format that allows for daily reconciliation. Use the information from your reconciliation forms to build your ballot manifest.
Centrally counted ballots go through multiple processing steps and managing the batches along the way with a Batch Cover Sheet is helpful. In the example provided below, you'll see two key sections.
First, a section for the processing team to name the batch, provide physical envelope counts, and a final ballot count. Noting differences as they process in smaller batches. The batch name could be a precinct name, ballot style, date, or combination of these elements.
The second section is for the tabulation team to verify the number of ballots tabulated matches the processing team's physical count and record any differences. If the tabulator provides a batch number, that number should be recorded as it ties the batch back to CVR records and batch totals.
The batch cover sheet should follow the batch of ballots throughout the process. We recommend printing on colored paper so they stand out from the white ballots.
Documenting the storage of each batch is important. While batch cover sheets should be stored with the batch, the information from the batch cover sheet needs to be available to build a ballot manifest as well as to facilitate the retrieval of ballots.
Use a Batch Tracking Sheet to record the information needed for each batch and the container it is stored inside. The tabulator batch number is only necessary for batch comparison, ballot comparison, and hybrid RLAs.
Finally, be sure to properly label the ballot container with the batch names and/or numbers stored inside.