To trust our elections we need evidence, enough evidence

A recent article in Barons by respected scientists: Elections Should be Grounded in Evidence, Not Blind Trust  <read>

Here’s what an evidence-based election would look like:

  • Voters hand-mark paper ballots to create a trustworthy, durable paper vote record. Voters who cannot hand-mark a ballot independently are provided assistive technologies, such as electronic ballot marking devices. But because these devices are subject to hacking, bugs, and software misconfiguration, the use of such ballot-marking devices should be limited.
  • Election officials protect the paper ballots to ensure no ballot has been added, removed, or altered. This requires stringent physical security protocols and ballot accounting, among other things.
  • Election officials count the votes, using technology if they choose. If the technology altered the outcome, that will (with high confidence) be corrected by the steps below.
  • Election officials reconcile and verify the number of ballots and the number of voters, with a complete canvass to ensure that every validly cast ballot is included in the count.
  • Election officials check whether the paper trail is trustworthy using a transparent “compliance audit,” reviewing chain-of-custody logs and security video, verifying voter eligibility, reconciling numbers of ballots of each style against poll book signatures and other records, and accounting for every ballot that was issued.
  • Election officials check the results with an audit that has a known, large probability of catching and correcting wrong reported outcomes—and no chance of altering correct outcomes. The inventory of paper ballots used in the audit must be complete and the audit must inspect the original hand-marked ballots, not images or copies.

None of these steps stands alone. An unexamined set of paper ballots, no matter how trustworthy, provides no evidence. Conversely, no matter how rigorous, audits and recounts of an untrustworthy paper trail provide no evidence that the reported winners won. Auditing or recounting machine-marked ballots or hand-marked ballots that have not been kept secure can check whether the reported outcome reflects that paper trail, but cannot provide evidence that the reported winners won.

We completely and enthusiastically agree.

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