The United States should stop holding elections conducted without human-readable paper ballots as soon as possible, urges a report published Thursday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. In a press release announcing the NASEM report, Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University and co-chair of the committee that produced the report said “this is a critical time for our country” and called on all levels of government to prioritize the use of paper ballots. NASEM’s recommendations are all oriented around ensuring that election infrastructure is not vulnerable to tampering and that results can be verified. Chief among the recommendations is that all voting machines that do not create a paper trail allowing for independent auditing be “removed from service as soon as possible.” The report follows two years of federal and state activity centered on protecting election systems from foreign meddling, specifically groups linked to Russian intelligence agencies. State chief information officers first got a warning from the Department of Homeland Security in August 2016 about potential outside attacks, and federal agencies have increased their attention on the issue throughout 2018.
Many states are now working to introduce paper trails into their elections infrastructure ahead of the 2020 election, thanks to $380 million in funding from the federal Election Assistance Commission. Secretaries of state have acknowledged the importance of a paper trail, with Minnesota’s Steve Simon recently quipping that “it’s very hard to hack paper.”
Keith Ingram, president elect of the National Association of State Election Directors and Texas’ director for elections, said on Thursday that making such a transition to paper-based machines is possible, but, “like everything else, it just takes money. Here in Texas, it would take quite a bit of money.”
Ingram estimated that in addition to approximately $180 million already spent by the state to update its elections infrastructure, an additional $180 million would probably be needed for the transition.
The report also calls for state mandates on “risk limiting” audits prior to the certification of election results. Such an audit, researchers say, requires a hand examination of as few as several hundred ballots in an election containing tens of millions of votes.
Internet-based voting systems, the report says, should not be used in any form until they can someday be verified as trusted and secure. Internet-based voting is rare in the United States, but West Virginia is currently experimenting with allowing overseas voters to vote online via a blockchain-based technology, and intends to permit use of the technology for overseas voters this November.