BMD’s are dangerous to democracy

One of the key issues this year is the purchase of Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) for all voters vs. Voter Marked Paper Ballots. In recent weeks, two board members have resigned from Verified Voting over a perception that VV is doing too much to tout Risk Limiting Audits (RLAs) of BMDs to the detriment of secure, evidence based elections.  An  extensive article in the NY Review of Books highlights the issues with BMDs: How New Voting Machines Could Hack Our Democracy <read>

The problem cited by the two board members, Philip Stark and Rich DeMillo, was VV touting RLAs of BMDs, with that publicity used as evidence in court by vendors refuting claims of the inadequacy of BMDs.

By mid-week Verified Voting had issued a clarification that states its general opposition to BMDs:  Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting Statement on Ballot Marking Devices and Risk-limiting Audits <read>

Verified Voting strongly advocates for best practices, including hand-marked paper ballots (with some judicious use of BMDs), careful voter verification of machine-marked ballots, strong chain of custody for all paper ballots, proper ballot accounting, and risk-limiting audits to verify tabulations of paper ballots.

We have one nit with VVs position, when they say: “Verified Voting recommends that any electronic tabulation of paper ballots be checked by a risk-limiting audit.” We say that RLA, better described as Risk Limiting Tabulation Audits, are unsuitable for small contests. They are excellent for Statewide and Federal contests, yet at some point between that size and contests with a few thousand ballots the only actual RLA would be more costly or always degrade into a full recount.

From the Review of Books article:

Most leading election security experts instead recommend hand-marked paper ballots as a primary voting system, with an exception for voters with disabilities. These experts include Professor Rich DeMillo of Georgia Tech, Professor Andrew Appel of Princeton University, Professor Philip Stark of the University of California at Berkeley, Professor Duncan Buell of the University of South Carolina, Professor Alex J. Halderman of the University of Michigan, and Harri Hursti, who is “considered one of the world’s foremost experts on the topic of electronic voting security” and is “famously known for his successful attempt to demonstrate how the Diebold Election Systems’ voting machines could be hacked.” These scholars warn that even a robust manual audit, known as a Risk Limiting Audit, cannot detect whether a BMD-marked paper ballot has been hacked. BMDs instead put the burden on voters themselves to detect whether such ballots include fraudulent or erroneous machine marks or omissions—even though studies already show that many voters won’t notice.

For this reason, many analysts have cautioned against acquiring these new ballot-marking machines for universal use, but election officials in at least 250 jurisdictions across the country have ignored their advice. Georgia (all one hundred and fifty-nine counties), South Carolina (all forty-six counties), and Delaware (all three counties) have already chosen these systems for statewide use in 2020. At least one or more counties in the following additional states have done the same: Pennsylvania (for the most populous county, plus at least four more), Wisconsin (for Waukesha, Kenosha, Chippewa and perhaps more), Ohio (for the most populous county and others), Tennessee (for at least ten counties), North Carolina (for the most populous county), West Virginia (for the most populous county and at least one other), Texas (for at least Dallas and Travis counties), Kentucky (for the most populous county), Arkansas (at least four counties), Indiana (for the most populous county and at least eight others), Kansas (for the first and second most populous counties), California (again, for the most populous county), Montana (at least one county, though not until 2022), and Colorado (for early voting). New York state has certified (that is, voted to allow) one such system as well.

Editorial: We should not be wasting Federal and State money on BMDs except for those with disabilities. Instead, we should be using a portion of the savings on developing better BMDs that better serve those with disabilities.



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