Voting Security Experts Stress Need For Paper Ballots In Next Presidential Election

Sep 7, 2018

Election administrators should use “human-readable paper ballots" by the 2020 presidential race, experts convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine warned in a new report

After Russian hackers meddled in the 2016 elections, the academies convened a group of computer science and cybersecurity experts – as well as legal and election scholars and officials – to come up with recommendations for the next presidential election.

“Long-standing concerns about outdated and insecure voting systems and newer developments such as cyberattacks, the designation of election systems as critical infrastructure, and allegations of widespread voter fraud, have combined to focus attention on U.S. election systems and operations,” the authors wrote in the report.

“The issues highlighted in 2016 add urgency to a careful reexamination of the conduct of elections in the United States and demonstrate a need to carefully consider tradeoffs with respect to access and cybersecurity," they continue. "This report responds to the needs of this moment.”

The group recommended that ballots that have been marked by voters “should not be returned over the Internet or any network connected to it, because no current technology can guarantee their secrecy, security, and verifiability.”

It also insisted that all election administrators make “every effort” to use paper ballots in this year’s election, too.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, one of the report's co-authors, said even though paper ballots are the safest way to vote that doesn’t mean an electronic voting machine can't meet the standards set out in the report.

“What we don’t want to have is systems that don’t have a paper trail,” she said. “And that’s what we mean by a human-readable paper trail. And we talked in the committee for a long time about the confusion that if we say ‘paper ballot’ people think you mean manual only.”

The group warned that voting machines that do not provide a voter-verifiable paper trail should be removed from service “as soon as possible.”

It also warned election administrators across the country to secure voter registration databases and poll books, which are typically connected to the Internet.

The experts also recommended that Congress provide more funding to the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission.

“[That] is right now the only place where state and local election officials have a group of people to talk to and a place to go to gather – especially national – information on how to implement best practices and the conduct of elections,” DeBeauvoir said.

She said colleges and universities should consider developing formal educations for election administration.   

“Most of us who do this job kind of fall into it,” she said. “We need a lot more help with basic education.”

Travis County is expected to use voting machines that have a voter-verifiable paper trail starting next year.