Editorials: Why computer scientists prefer paper ballots | Wenke Lee Ph.D

Today, Georgia’s “Secure, Accessible, and Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission” delivered to the state legislature a final recommendation for new, more reliable election equipment. I was honored to serve as a cybersecurity expert for the SAFE Commission to help improve a process at the very core of democracy – secure elections and the right to a private vote. However, I ultimately chose to vote against the Commission’s final report even though we agreed on many points. Below is a summary of everything I believe Georgia must consider going forward. The SAFE Commission was charged with studying options for Georgia’s next voting system, and our discussions focused heavily on which type of voting equipment to use at physical polling places, risks to election security and hacking methods, concerns for voter accessibility at physical polls, and intergovernmental coordination. State legislators next will review and ultimately determine which new election system to adopt, which new processes to enact or change, and how best to appropriate funds for purchase, maintenance, staffing, training, and voter education. 

Toward Better Security: A voting system must provide a voter-verifiable paper audit trail that clearly shows all votes cast by each voter. The best solution is to use paper ballots that are hand-marked (so that the voter casts and verifies their selection in a single act), optically scanned for tabulation, and dropped into a safe box for physical audit before certification of election results.

The current generation of ballot-marking devices (BMDs) rely on technology to capture voter choice, then give the voter a post-record receipt that is scanned for tabulation. These do not meet the requirements of a voter-verifiable paper audit trail. First, a vulnerability remains that the device may not accurately record a vote or provide a correct receipt back to the voter. Second, there has been no rigorous study to demonstrate that voters are willing or able to verify printouts match their votes. Quite to the contrary, studies and observations at polling stations have shown that many voters do not spend time to verify a receipt, or even if they do, they don’t have sufficient memory to recall all votes cast and spot errors. That is, many voters are not able to verify the validity of their BMD printouts. In short, we cannot use BMDs with paper receipts because the printouts are not guaranteed to be valid and therefore are insufficient for a post-election audit.

Full Article: Why computer scientists prefer paper ballots.

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