The Case Against Trusting Democracy to BMDs

Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) are under consideration by several states for use for all in-person voting. They have paper ballots, “What could possibly go wrong?”.  A recent paper makes the case that they cannot be audited or trusted to provide accurate results. The paper recommends that they should be limited to use by voters that need accessibility:  Ballot-marking devices (BMDs) cannot assure the will of the voters <read>

..paper ballots provide no assurance unless they accurately record the vote as the voter expresses it. Voters can express their intent by hand-marking a ballot with a pen, or using a computer called a ballot-marking device (BMD),which generally has a touchscreen and assistive interfaces. Voters can make mistakes in expressing their intent in either technology, but only the BMD is also subject to systematic error from computer hacking or bugs in the process of recording the vote on paper, after the voter has expressed it. A hacked BMD can print a vote on the paper ballot that differs from what the voter expressed, or can omit a vote that the voter expressed…

Research shows that most voters do not review paper ballots printed by BMDs, even when clearly instructed to check for errors. Furthermore,most voters who do review their ballots do not check carefully enough to notice errors that would change how their votes were counted…There is no action that a voter can take to demonstrate to election officials that a BMD altered their expressed votes, and thus no way voters can help deter, detect, contain, and correct computer hacking in elections. That is, not only is it inappropriate to rely on voters to check whether BMDs alter expressed votes, it doesn’t work.

The entire paper is readable and makes a complete case for its conclusions.

Simply stated Georgia, Pennsylvania, and other states seeking accurate, credible elections need paper ballots, sufficient post-election audits, ballot protection, and Voter-Marked Paper Ballots. BMDs are insufficient and cost several times more.

Yet, this paper has been very controversial in election integrity circles. Advocates for those with disabilities argue that everyone should vote the same way on the same equipment, because that is what is needed to provide equality, to incentivize and cause better BMDs that meet everyone’s needs including those for evidence based elections.


We completely agree with the paper’s conclusions. Overall there is nothing new here, except an extensive review and clarification of older and recent work.

We are sympathetic to the needs of those with disabilities. We need better interfaces and BMDs to serve them better. Yet, spending triple on inadequate equipment is not the path forward.

As long as we have absentee voting, we will have voter marked paper ballots, as long as BMDs use multiple interfaces, all voters will not vote the same way.

Better that money and effort be spent on research and innovation, than on excessive purchases of inadequate equipment. Where is the incentive for vendors to innovate when election officials can be, all but, mandated to buy the inadequate equipment on the market? The only incentive would be for multiple rounds of modestly better BMDs followed by multiple rounds of expensive replacements.





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