[Image courtesy of USA Today]
Yesterday, a group of researchers from the Verified Voting Foundation, Common Cause and the Rutgers School of Law released a report entitled COUNTING VOTES 2012: A State by State Look at Voting Technology Preparedness.
The report is thoroughly researched and painstakingly sourced; it checks in at a whopping 318 pages supported by over 2,400(!) footnotes. Not surprisingly, it has already gotten significant attention, based in part on the state by state rankings (summarized in the above map) as well as on the report's deep skepticism about the use of Internet voting.
But tucked into the report are a series of best practices that the authors used to evaluate the states - best practices that can serve as an excellent starting point for a conversation about how well a given state or locality is managing its voting technology. The report itself summarizes the best practices thus:
Does the state have adequate contingency plans at each polling place in the event of machine failure? Machine repair should occur quickly and emergency paper ballots should be made available.
Does the state protect military and overseas voters by ensuring that marked ballots are not cast online? Voting system experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and cyber security experts at the Department of Homeland Security warn that even state-of-the-art online voting technology lacks adequate security and privacy protections. Ballots cast over the Internet can be subject to alteration and voters may lose the right to a secret ballot.
Has the state instituted a post-election audit that can determine whether the electronically reported outcomes are correct? Simply voting on paper ballot systems does not increase the accuracy and integrity of election results; the ballots or records must be used to independently audit the vote count. Mandatory comparison of a random sample of the paper ballots to electronic totals is one of the best ways to ensure that the reported outcomes are correct. A well designed audit should use statistical sampling methods tied to the margin of victory and should be able to correct the outcome if it is wrong.
Does the state use robust ballot reconciliation and tabulation practices? These basic procedures help ensure that no ballots are lost or added as the votes are tallied and aggregated from the local up to the state level.
- Does the state require paper ballots or records of every ballot? When computer failures or human errors cause machines to miscount, election officials can use the original ballots to determine correct totals. Additionally, paper ballots or records can be used to audit machine counts to determine if outcomes are correct.
I am very familiar with the groups and individuals who wrote the report, and their passion for the issue and commitment to quality research jumps off of every page. I plan to dive much deeper into the report in the days and weeks to come, but for now I heartily recommend Counting Votes to anyone who wants a firm grounding in the state of voting technology in America in election year 2012.