Verified Voting’s Policy on DREs and BMDs

This week Verified Voting released a Policy on DREs and BMDs <read>. It is consistent with our  views <The Case Against Trusting Democracy to BMDs>

From the summary:

But it’s not enough for a voting system to “check the box” on paper – to print paper records that voters may not even notice or examine. To be trustworthy, elections need to be based on voter-marked paper ballots. Whether these ballots are marked by hand or by device, for them to be considered voter-marked, voters should know what they say!

For Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs), that means the systems, and the procedures around them, should demonstrably support voter verification. They should ensure that voters deliberately and intentionally check their printed ballots carefully enough to detect, correct, and report any errors. It also means that pollworkers should be trained to follow specific protocols if BMDs are not recording voters’ intent accurately during voting.

It is far from clear that any currently available BMD meets a high standard of voter verification in practice. Published research is scanty, but it suggests that many voters may barely look at their ballots – let alone look closely enough to notice any changes. This is a usability defect that threatens election integrity. If voters are unable to use voting systems and election procedures safely, the systems and procedures must change to protect our elections. Now is the time to revisit those procedures and adapt them to optimize the use of new technology…

Given present knowledge, we think the best approach has some basic elements:

    • Select BMDs that are easiest for voters to verify. Avoid BMDs with radical flaws such as being able to add, change, or destroy votes on ballots after voters cast them.
    • Allow in-person voters to choose between hand-marking ballots and using BMDs. When a polling place has one or two BMDs, a variety of voters should be encouraged to use them.
    • Make sure contingency plans are in place for everything that could go wrong with BMDs, from isolated malfunctions through massive subversion. Such plans include having emergency paper ballots on hand in precincts that use BMDs for all voters.
    • Systematically study best system designs and procedures to ensure that votes are verified and protected. Support continuous improvement in systems and procedures.

As they say: “We have had some long and sometimes difficult conversations about these topics, and we look forward to more.”

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