Post-election audits are essential for ensuring confidence in the election results. An audit consists of checking a statistically significant sample of ballots by a back-up method to make sure the results are consistent with what the tabulating system reported. See FairVote's Policy Guide item on Risk Limiting Audits for more information in general.
The latest voting technology, by producing digitized images or "voter verifiable" cast vote records, brings into play the prospect of automated full ballot auditing using independent software. This prospect offers the potential to provide far greater efficiency and scope to post-election auditing enabling jurisdictions of any size to conduct more timely and more accurate audits of election results.
In the absence of procedures for automated auditing using independent software, jurisdictions have historically conducted manual audits of ballots. This consists of hand-counting a batch of ballots and comparing that tally to the ranked order vote record generated by the tabulating system. If using such manual audits, model statistical sampling protocols should be developed to ensure that the sample size and selection is sufficient. Note that manual audits are inferior to automated audits due to the increased likelihood of manual tabulation error.
In most places, recounts are rare. When they are needed, they are a failsafe and ensurance that the candidate with the most eligible votes wins the election. Under RCV, the need for recounts will still generally be rare, and they can be administered in a way that will remain fair to all parties and comparable in time to recounts under non-RCV elections.
Critically, each ballot will only require a single review in determining for whom it should count in all but the most unusual circumstances. Although an initial ranked choice voting count is conducted through multiple rounds of counting, the recount generally will not need multiple rounds. That’s because the order in which lower-performing candidates are eliminated doesn’t change the outcome for a close second-place finisher. In an RCV recount, the rankings for candidates placing below the candidate requesting the recount can be ignored, and each ballot should take a single review to determining for whom it should count. The top candidates are the only ones with a chance to win, so rankings for all other candidates can simply be ignored, as if those candidates have already been defeated. Ballots can be sorted based only on which of those top candidates, if any, the ballot supports, and this process will generally conclude the recount.
For more detail on best practices for recounts when requested by candidates, download as a pdf our memo on best practices for conducting a statewide hand-recount with RCV.