This is one of the hottest issues right now among election integrity advocates.
The critics believe there are too many hidden or hackable parts that can be targeted by malevolent actors to steal votes and rig results – in short, resurrecting old criticisms of DREs. But stepping back, examining these latest charges can illustrate how much has changed in voting technology, and that counting votes and verifying results could be more precise than ever – if best practices were more widely used.
To start, there are big differences between DREs and the newest BMDs. As Ben Adida, a cybersecurity expert and voting system engineer who created a non-profit to build an inexpensive and open-source voting system, recently tweeted, “equating Ballot-Marking Devices with paperless voting machines is an exaggeration.” Yes, these devices could be better, he added, noting that their bar codes and printed voter choices could be larger and more readable. But the newest BMD systems do produce a secondary record of the vote cast that can be verified and compared to its internal electronic tabulation, he said.
“Paper is there. Mismatched barcodes can be discovered with auditing. And improving paper verification is doable,” Adida tweeted. “It’s easy to be a security maximalist while ignoring other requirements. We need to do better than that, be more subtle, take other requirements into account.”
The maximalists to whom Adida was referring are a mix of academic computer scientists and grassroots election integrity experts, such as those cited recently in Politico who have been equating BMD systems (that may soon be acquired in Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere) with DREs. In short, the critics are firmly rejecting the prospect of any technological progress or better verification of the first unofficial vote counts. As Adida observed, there’s no middle ground …
Maryland’s approach has not gained wide attention. But it is doing what critics allege cannot be done – and arguably is a model for verifying vote counts. It is independently double-checking the accuracy of all of its initial results before announcing the official winners in its elections. This involves auditing both ink-marked paper ballots and the computer-generated ballot summary cards.
“I understand that we are the only state to have done it,” said Nikki Charlson, Maryland State Board of Elections deputy administrator. “It works very well for us. And provides lots of other information that helps us improve election administration.”
To verify its first unofficial vote totals, Maryland has been working with Clear Ballot. The firm pioneered a system that analyzes ballot image files produced by the scanners to independently verify the individual votes cast and audit the reported totals. Initially, Clear Ballot’s system focused on counting the ink-marked paper, but because Maryland also used BMD systems it wrote additional software to analyze whether those electronic totals matched the ballot summary card’s bar codes and printed voter choices…..