California Election Infrastructure: Making a Good System Better

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Report #259, April 2021


California’s elections are free, fair, and secure, but the state can do more to improve its election infrastructure, the state’s independent government watchdog recommends in a new report.

In California Election Infrastructure: Making a Good System Better, the Little Hoover Commission recommends creation of an open source voting system and the statewide use of risk-limiting audits.

“The 2020 election was the most secure election in history,” says Chair Pedro Nava. “But California cannot be complacent and should take steps to improve its election infrastructure in order to keep up with evolving technology and knowledge.”

The Commission held a hearing on this topic in 2019 and released a letter to the Governor and legislative leadership to consider important questions related to elections security, such as the need for funding to improve equipment. This report builds on the Commission’s past work and adds specific policy recommendations

In its report, the Commission finds that California relies on a for-profit model for election equipment security. The Commission recommends that the state develop and adopt an open source elections system, which would be more transparent, save money, increase versatility for counties, and aligns with a state goal to use open source software across government.

“Currently, the process in California to test and re-certify election infrastructure is extensive and does not incentivize security upgrades for existing models,” said Commissioner Bill Emmerson, who chaired the Commission’s subcommittee on voting equipment security. “Investing in a publicly-owned, open source election system should help the state better address any security vulnerabilities.”

The Commission also concluded that the state’s current requirement for checking the results of an election – a manual tally of 1 percent of precincts – is outdated. The Commission urges the state to implement the use of risk-limiting audits, a review of randomly selected ballots until the risk limit – a pre-determined chance that a wrong outcome will not be discovered – is reached.

The Commission also outlines additional reforms to include improving training and adopting the use of compliance audits.

“By following the recommendations outlined in our report, California can build on its good work and make our elections even more secure,” says Commissioner Janna Sidley, who also served on the study’s subcommittee. “Some of our recommendations will require more resources from the Legislature, but it’s worth it to maintain California’s tradition of top-notch election administration.”

Relevant Reports

(Report #247, March 2019)

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