WINCHESTER — Jurisdictions in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and throughout Virginia are taking part in a risk-limiting audit (RLA) of local voting machines.
Review boards in each of the commonwealth's 133 localities will check a sampling of ballots from the Nov. 6 presidential and senatorial elections to make sure local voting machines accurately recorded the results. Each review will be open to the public, but capacities will be limited in each jurisdiction due to social-distancing requirements necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Frederick County will conduct its RLA at 5 p.m. today in the Board of Supervisors meeting room in the county government's administration building, 107 N. Kent St., Winchester. Winchester and Clarke County will each convene a review board at 10 a.m. Thursday. Winchester's will meet in Winchester Circuit Court chambers in the Joint Judicial Center, 5 N. Kent St.,Winchester, and Clarke County's will meet in Clarke County Circuit Court chambers, 102 N. Church St., Berryville.
The statewide RLA is not connected to the "Stop the Steal" controversy stirred by former President Donald Trump following his Nov. 6 loss to President Joe Biden, which cast suspicions upon the accuracy of ballot results across the entire country. Rather, the audit was initiated in 2018 by the Virginia Department of Elections and incorporated into state code by the General Assembly.
According to section 24.2-671.1 of the Code of Virginia, "The Department of Elections shall coordinate a post-election risk-limiting audit annually of ballot scanner machines in use in the commonwealth. ... The purpose of the audits shall be to study the accuracy of ballot scanner machines."
Each locality in Virginia is being told by the state Department of Elections how many paper ballots must be matched to voting machines in order to ensure that each machine accurately recorded the votes.
Sample sizes in each jurisdiction will represent a tiny sliver of the total presidential and senatorial votes cast on Nov. 6. Winchester Voter Registrar Elizabeth Martin said the city will only have to review four ballots, and officials are still waiting to hear which ballots will be designated by the state for inspection. As of Monday afternoon, Frederick County and Clarke County were still waiting to hear how many and which ballots each will need to review.
Clarke County Voter Registrar Barbara Bosserman said Virginia's smaller localities may not have to report their RLA results to the state Department of Elections. That's because state officials have indicated the data from less-populated areas — Clarke County's total population is just 14,619, about half the city of Winchester's and about one-sixth of Frederick County's — may not be required in order for state officials to determine the overall effectiveness of voting machines throughout the commonwealth.
If any problems with the voting machines are detected, Martin said it will not change the outcomes of the 2020 presidential and senatorial elections because those votes have already been certified. However, it will alert localities to any problems that need to be corrected prior to each jurisdiction's next election.
The next scheduled election in the Northern Shenandoah Valley will be on May 4 in the town of Berryville. Winchester, Frederick County and Clarke County will send voters to the polls for a statewide general election on Nov. 2.
Results of Virginia's RLA will be announced on March 2 by the state Department of Elections.
For more information about this week's RLA, visit the Virginia Department of Elections online at elections.virginia.gov.