Increasing levels of plasmid vector-mediated activation of innate immune signaling pathways is an approach to improve DNA vaccine-induced adaptive immunity for infectious disease and cancer applications. Retinoic acid-inducible gene I (RIG-I) is a critical cytoplasmic double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) pattern receptor required for innate immune activation in response to viral infection. Activation of RIG-I leads to type I interferon (IFN) and inflammatory cytokine production through interferon promoter stimulator 1 (IPS-1)-mediated activation of interferon regulatory factor 3 (IRF3) and NF-κB signaling. DNA vaccines coexpressing antigen and an expressed RNA (eRNA) RIG-I agonist were made, and the effect of RIG-I activation on antigen-specific immune responses to the encoded antigen was determined. Plasmid vector backbones expressing various RIG-I ligands from RNA polymerase III promoters were screened in a cell culture assay for RIG-I agonist activity, and optimized, potent RIG-I ligands were developed. One of these, eRNA41H, combines (i) eRNA11a, an immunostimulatory dsRNA expressed by convergent transcription, with (ii) adenovirus VA RNAI. eRNA41H was integrated into the backbone of DNA vaccine vectors expressing H5N1 influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA). The resultant eRNA vectors potently induced type 1 IFN production in cell culture through RIG-I activation and combined high-level HA antigen expression with RNA-mediated type I IFN activation in a single plasmid vector. The eRNA vectors induced increased HA-specific serum antibody binding avidity after naked DNA intramuscular prime and boost delivery in mice. This demonstrates that DNA vaccine potency may be augmented by the incorporation of RIG-I-activating immunostimulatory RNA into the vector backbone.