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Voting Technology

Ten Things Elections Officials Can Do To Secure The Vote This November

by Kim Alexander, President
California Voter Foundation

August 19, 2004

There are a number of steps U.S. elections officials can take to improve the security and accuracy of election results produced with electronic voting systems this November. Here are ten things that can be done to minimize e-voting risks:

1) "Paper or Plastic?" option

Give voters in electronic voting jurisdictions the choice of casting a paper ballot in their polling place if they prefer to do so. Every polling place should have an ample supply of paper ballots available in case the voting equipment fails. An "ample supply" would be a supply of paper ballots equivalent to at least 25 percent of a jurisdiction's registered voters.

2) Paper, not electronic provisional voting

Federal law now requires pollworkers to allow voters whose names don't appear on the voter list to cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots are counted after the polls close. To protect a voter's ballot secrecy, a paper provisional ballot is placed inside an envelope that bears the provisional voter's name on the outside of the envelope. After election officials determine whether the voter's ballot should be counted, the paper ballot is separated from the envelope and is counted. In this way, a provisional voter's status can be verified without violating that voter's right to cast a secret ballot.

Electronic provisional balloting, which has already been implemented in some jurisdictions, places the voter's right to ballot secrecy at risk, since adequate privacy or security measures typically have not yet been developed to ensure that the voter's right to cast a secret ballot is protected in an electronic environment. For both security and voter privacy reasons, electronic provisional balloting should be prohibited.

3) Access to source code by election officials

Election officials should have the right to inspect any source code being used in their voting system. This reform has been endorsed by DeForest Soaries, Chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission.

4) Paper audit trail summary results

Many voting machines can print a paper summary at the close of polls of all the votes cast throughout the voting day. These paper audit trails should be used to verify that the results reported at polling places are accurately reflected in the final election results. These audit trails should also be posted outside of polling places at the close of polls. In places using machines that cannot produce a printed report, pollworkers should be given charts of the races and measures on the ballot in that precinct to be filled in, with one returned to the election office and another posted outside the polling place at the close of polls.

5) Public reconciliation of results

The verification process described above should be performed in public. The number of voters checking in at each polling place should also be publicly compared to the number of ballots recorded and counted from each polling place. Such proceedings should be open to videotaping and properly noticed to the public.

6) Public posting of equipment and procedures

The security procedures that will be followed before, during and after the election should be publicly posted, on the Internet and/or in local election offices. Procedures should be set and published no less than 45 days in advance of Election Day. All jurisdictions should disclose the vendor, equipment name and model number, and all software and firmware version numbers of their voting equipment to the public online and/or in election offices and at polling places. Contracts with voting equipment vendors should also be made readily accessible to the public.

7) Federal and state equipment approval

All voting equipment used should be fully tested and certified by state and federal authorities. All states should conduct an inventory of their equipment hardware and software to verify that what they are using has been approved by the proper oversight authorities. All equipment should be approved at least 45 days prior to Election Day. In addition, as recommended in the EAC's Best Practices, last-minute changes and software patches that have not been tested, qualified and certified should be prohibited.

8) Chain of custody of equipment and software

It is up to states and local jurisdictions to ensure that the versions of software and firmware used in electronic voting machines, peripheral devices (such as smart card encoders) and vote tabulation servers are the versions that have been state certified and/or federally qualified. Election officials must also ensure that any voting equipment or device that stores electronic ballots is protected at all times. Voting equipment left in insecure locations before and after the election undermines voter confidence in election security. Voting equipment should be sealed in a secure manner before and after the election. The seal used for this purpose should be one that is less easily tampered with than the typical plastic "seals" used on voting machines. Election officials must develop procedures that describe how equipment will be securely delivered and retrieved from polling places in a timely fashion, as well as how machines will be warehoused and protected before and after the election.

9) Security plan for every jurisdiction

Security plans for all aspects of the voting process should be drawn up and published at least 45 days prior to the election. These security plans should include a communications plan for polling places to ensure pollworkers have access to a phone, and an environmental plan to ensure polling places are equipped with ample electricity and lighting and are wheelchair-accessible. All tasks associated with administering electronic voting equipment should be overseen by election officials. Critical tasks such as training pollworkers, programming machines, delivering equipment, and tabulating results on Election Night should be managed by the elections department and not outsourced to the vendor.

10) Truly "stand-alone" systems

Any electronic voting equipment that is used in polling places or at the local election office to tabulate results must truly be "stand-alone" devices. No modems, modem ports, wireless devices, or wireless ports should be available for use with any electronic voting equipment. Any communication ports on voting devices should be disabled. Computer Equipment used to tabulate results should not be connected to the Internet.

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This page was first published on July 9 , 2004 | Last updated on January 27, 2006
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