The US has approximately 213,768,000 registered voters at the time of this publication. Even though American voting systems have been enhanced for security and functionality on some levels, tampering is still a major possibility. There are a variety of voting laws from state to state, and some states have taken additional steps to secure their elections, but ultimately, any electronic device can be hacked, as shown in a variety of white-hat hacking events surrounding voting machine functionality.
Several jurisdictions allow voters to use machines that generate electronic tallies, but no receipt is generated for verification, so accountability is left in the balance. There is significant room for manipulation since any effort to recount would yield the same results.
To effectively secure the election process in the United States, national legislation for voter integrity must be introduced to require minimum standards of security and prohibit unfair processes. To ensure results are tabulated appropriately, a standard requirement for routinely performed recounts performed at random will further ensure that results are accurate.
In fourteen states, there are Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Touchscreen voting machines that provide no paper ballots at all. The electronic voting machines in some states print out a paper ballot, which is then scanned back into a second machine. These printouts, known as Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs), do not provide the same level of security.
Optical scanners are used in states that still use paper ballots. Just like the DRE machines, these computers are programmed by private companies using software that is not available for public inspection. Furthermore, these scanners are vulnerable to both fraud and error, which is why a robust, public audit of the paper ballots is required on election night.
Paper ballots marked by hand are the most secure national standard for democratic elections. With durable voter-marked paper ballots, the citizen is able to fully oversee elections, which is the essence of the democratic process.
Comparatively to the American system, French elections are conducted with paper ballots that are cast by hand without the use of machines. There are currently approximately 48,700,000 registered voters in France. Voters in France place their ballot in an envelope in a transparent ballot box after marking their selections. To complete the process, they need to present photo identification and sign a document next to their name. Voters are then counted individually by volunteer poll workers. According to the law, the paper ballot is what counts for the vote. Manual recounts are performed if a challenge is made to a result.
Although the use of paper may seem antiquated, election security experts believe that nothing else can provide the reliability, security, and transparency this requires. Paper ballots that are watermarked and durable are appropriate technologies.
Voters who are unable to vote can, for various reasons, designate someone else to do the voting for them. An individual must fill out a form in advance and take it to the police station in order to do so. A person can be the proxy for no more than one voter living in France and, under certain circumstances, a second overseas voter.
Most French polling stations close at 7 p.m., while larger cities, such as Paris, close at 8 p.m. The ballots are manually counted at each polling station immediately following the closing of the polls.
In each polling station, results are entered into software that is run by the state. However, a manual record is also maintained on-site. The Ministry of Interior publishes the results in real-time after receiving the results.
To the benefit of this system, paper ballots provide physical proof of the voter’s intent; ballots can be safely recounted in case of a contested result, and counting paper ballots in public allows for total oversight and transparency.
Computer voting systems could break down or malfunction and, in most instances, are programmed by private corporations, which leaves multiple levels of exposed security risk from both internal and external parties. In addition, required software updates and data entry as well as machine maintenance and upkeep remain a significant cost and the state could realize significant cost savings by conducting elections with paper ballots.
In response to those who question the increased risk of stuffing ballot boxes, stuffing ballot boxes and rigging elections on a large scale may prove feasible, but it is difficult and can be detected, especially in cases where durable paper ballots are securely watermarked. In contrast, using an electronic voting device could allow the same crime to be committed without detection from a remote location.
By putting in place robust physical security measures, it is possible to prevent paper ballot rigging and make it very unlikely that fraud would occur.
In order to defend against pre-election ballot box stuffing, see-through ballot boxes are used around the world. A secure and documented “chain of custody” is essential for moving ballots from precincts to counting centers. The ballots should be counted at the precinct before they are moved to provide robust verification. Another appropriate technology for election security is to place live cameras on the ballot boxes as they travel.
In summary, the United States would benefit from improved security and integrity while saving taxpayer dollars by transitioning to a system of watermarked, durable paper ballots.