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Arlo: Open-source risk-limiting audit software by VotingWorks

Arlo is a web-based risk-limiting audit (RLA) tool used to conduct post-election audits in the United States. The tool helps election officials complete a statistically valid audit of vote tabulation processes by comparing the votes marked on a random sample of original paper ballots with the electronically recorded votes for those same ballots. This type of audit can confirm that the reported winner did indeed win, or correct the outcome through a full hand recount if the reported outcome cannot be confirmed.

About Arlo

As part of the audit, Arlo:

  • Uses basic election data to determine how many ballots should be examined

  • Randomly selects individual ballots to be examined from a list of all ballots cast in particular contest(s), and provides auditors with the information they need to find those ballots in storage

  • Provides supplemental materials necessary to maintain chain of custody while retrieving ballots

  • Checks whether votes recorded by auditors examining each ballot match what we would expect if the reported outcome is correct, more specifically whether the desired risk-limit has been achieved based on these results

    • If not, randomly selects additional ballots to expand the sample size and continue the audit, up to a full hand recount if necessary
  • Provides monitoring & reporting so that election officials and public observers can follow the progress and outcome of the audit

Supported election types, audit methods, and processes

Arlo currently supports multiple risk-limiting audit methods, including:

  • ballot polling (BRAVO & Minerva)
  • batch comparison
  • ballot comparison
  • hybrid (SUITE, combining ballot polling & ballot comparison)

Arlo also supports:

  • single jurisdiction or multi-jurisdiction audits
  • single winner or multi-winner contests
  • auditing multiple contests simultaneously, both within and across jurisdictions (via independent sampling with maximum overlap, due to Rivest's Consistent Sampler)
  • online ballot data entry or offline, paper-based ballot data collection, where applicable (e.g. offline data entry for ballot polling allows for tally sheets to be used onsite to capture individual ballot data, and only aggregate totals need to be entered into Arlo. Ballot comparison and hybrid methods require ballot-by-ballot data entry, however.)

At present, only plurality elections are supported, as they are the predominant election method in the United States.

Statistical methods

The statistics used in Arlo include:

Random sampling of ballots is done using Rivest's Consistent Sampler.

Future development

Ongoing development is planned to support:

  • Additional election types (proportional contests, RCV elections, etc.)

  • More efficient statistical methods

Using Arlo

To use Arlo, we recommend following our user documentation, which can be found here: https://docs.voting.works/arlo/.

Developer resources

Arlo is open-source software (AGPL v3.0), meaning you are free to use it, modify it, and redistribute those modifications as you'd like, provided that, when you redistribute your modifications, you share them in the same open way. Because Arlo is open-source, anyone can review it or run their own copy, thus ensuring that, when used in a real audit, it is performing according to specification.

Like any open-source software, Arlo welcomes suggested changes in the form of pull requests on GitHub. If you're interested in getting a change merged into Arlo, please consider the following:

  • test coverage is mandatory. We won't merge code without it.

  • significant / risky changes may take some time to review, and are not likely to be merged unless they've been discussed first. The stability of Arlo is a prime concern. A good way to start a conversation around a large change is by opening up a ticket.

  • we really want to know about anything that gets in the way of installing and using Arlo. Please file tickets, suggest changes to our installation instructions, etc.

Before submitting a pull request, please review our Contribution Guidelines.

Installation

Installing Arlo

We recommend running Arlo on Ubuntu 20.

  • Clone the Arlo repository from https://github.com/votingworks/arlo.
  • make dev-environment or, if you prefer, look at individual make tasks like deps, initdevdb, install-development, and resetdb

Here are some troubleshooting steps for issues we've run into when installing Arlo before:

  • Arlo expects the Postgresql server to use the UTC timezone. You may need to edit /etc/postgresql/10/main/postgresql.conf and set timezone = UTC.
  • psycopg2 has known issues depending on your install (see, e.g., here). If you run into issues, switch psycopg2 to psycopg2-binary in pyproject.toml
  • A password may have to be set in the DATABASE_URL env var depending on your install of postgres. To do this, change postgresql://postgres@localhost:5432/arlo to postgresql://postgres:{PASSWORD}@localhost:5432/arlo, replacing {PASSWORD} with the password.
  • You may need to create arlo and arlo-test databases manually via postgres.
  • If you run into the error fe_sendauth: no password supplied when running make dev-environment, it means there's no password set for the default postgres user. You can change the postgres authentication method to not require a password by editing /etc/postgresql/10/main/pg_hba.conf and changing md5 to trust for both the IPv4 and IPv6 local connections settings, and then restart postgres via sudo systemctl restart postgresql.

Configuration

Arlo is configured mostly through environment variables. Below are the basic env variables needed to get Arlo up and running. More details, including default values, can be found in server/config.py.

  • FLASK_ENV: environment for the Flask server
  • DATABASE_URL: PostgreSQL database url, e.g. postgresql://localhost:5342/arlo.
  • ARLO_SESSION_SECRET: the secret key used to encrypt/auth client-side cookie sessions
  • ARLO_HTTP_ORIGIN: the proper HTTP/HTTPS origin where this Arlo server is running, e.g. https://arlo.example.com:8443 (as any web origin, no trailing slash)
  • ARLO_SUPPORT_AUTH0_BASE_URL, ARLO_SUPPORT_AUTH0_CLIENT_ID, ARLO_SUPPORT_AUTH0_CLIENT_SECRET: base url, client id, and client secret for the OAuth identity provider used for support users.
  • ARLO_SUPPORT_EMAIL_DOMAIN: required email address domains for support users (comma-separated list)
  • ARLO_AUDITADMIN_AUTH0_BASE_URL, ARLO_AUDITADMIN_AUTH0_CLIENT_ID, ARLO_AUDITADMIN_AUTH0_CLIENT_SECRET: base url, client id, and client secret for the OAuth identity provider used for audit admins.
  • ARLO_SMTP_HOST, ARLO_SMTP_PORT, ARLO_SMTP_USERNAME, ARLO_SMTP_PASSWORD: SMTP configuration for sending jurisdiction admin login code emails (we use Mailgun)
  • ARLO_FILE_UPLOAD_STORAGE_PATH: where Arlo should store files uploaded by users. This can either be a local filesystem path, or an Amazon S3 path of the form: s3://bucket_name. If using S3, two other env variables are required: AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID and AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY.

Arlo has three user types: audit administrators, jurisdiction managers, and support users. Audit admins and support users are both authenticated via OAuth. Our OAuth identity provider of choice is Auth0, but Arlo is (mostly) agnostic to this choice. More on how we use Auth0 in docs/auth.md.

For ease of development, we have created nOAuth, a pass-through OAuth identity provider. nOAuth is installed as a dependency of Arlo, and is configured to run alongside the Arlo dev server (see Running Arlo).

For jurisdiction admin logins, you'll need to configure Arlo to point to an SMTP email provider.

However, you can also log in as audit admins/jurisdiction admins via the support user interface, which is often the quickest way to log in during local development.

Database configuration

To initialize the database schema, run make resetdb.

Arlo's database schema is encoded by a series of migrations. When pulling in new changes from the Arlo repo, you may need to run migrations to update to the current schema. More info on this in server/migrations/README.md.

Running Arlo

To run a local dev server: ./run-dev.sh. This will also run the Arlo background worker and a local nOAuth server.

Creating organizations and audit administrators

Organizations are, for example, the State of Massachusetts. Audit administrators are individual users that administer audits for an organization.

To start out, you'll need to create at least one organization and audit admin.

  1. Log in as a support user at http://localhost:3000/auth/support/start
  2. Enter an organization name and click "Create organization"
  3. Click the name of the newly created organization
  4. Enter and audit admin email and click "Create audit admin"
  5. Click "Log in as" next to your newly created audit admin
  6. From here, follow the Arlo user docs to start running audits

Testing

To run the tests all the way through, use these commands:

  • make resettestdb (to initialize the test db schema)
  • make test-server or make test-server-coverage
  • make test-client
  • ./client/run-cypress-tests.sh

To run tests while developing, you can use these commands to make things more interactive:

  • Server tests: poetry run pytest (you can add flags - e.g. -k <pattern> only runs tests that match the pattern, -n auto to run the tests in parallel)
  • Client tests: yarn --cwd client test (runs interactive test CLI)
  • End-to-end tests: first run FLASK_ENV=test ./run-dev.sh to run the server, then, in a separate shell, run yarn --cwd client run cypress open (opens the Cypress test app for interactive test running/debugging)