Handmarked paper ballots more verifiable than ballot marking devices

New study summarized by Andrew Appel: Why voters should mark ballots by hand <read>

Because voting machines contain computers that can be hacked to make them cheat, “Elections should be conducted with human-readable paper ballots. These may be marked by hand or by machine (using a ballot-marking device); they may be counted by hand or by machine (using an optical scanner).  Recounts and audits should be conducted by human inspection of the human-readable portion of the paper ballots.”

Ballot-marking devices (BMD) contain computers too, and those can also be hacked to make them cheat.  But the principle of voter verifiability is that when the BMD prints out a summary card of the voter’s choices, which the voter can hold in hand before depositing it for scanning and counting, then the voter has verified the printout that can later be recounted by human inspection.

But really?  As a practical matter, do voters verify their BMD-printed ballot cards, and are they even capable of it?  Until now, there hasn’t been much scientific research on that question.

A new study by Richard DeMillo, Robert Kadel, and Marilyn Marks now answers that question with hard evidence:

  1. In a real polling place, half the voters don’t inspect their ballot cards, and the other half inspect for an average of 3.9 seconds (for a ballot with 18 contests!).

  2. When asked, immediately after depositing their ballot, to review an unvoted copy of the ballot they just voted on, most won’t detect that the wrong contests are presented, or that some are missing.

The study What Voters are Asked to Verify Affects Ballot Verification: A Quantitative Analysis of Voters’ Memories of Their Ballots <read>

Recognize that ballot marking devices, like the IVS used in Connecticut, are a valuable vehicle for those with disabilities. Voters without disabilities should avoid them. Leave them for those that need them. There are two other reasons to encourage the vast majority of voters to use hand-marked paper ballots. Ballot marking devices are much more expensive than voting booths for marking paper ballots and can lead to long lines.

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