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Recommendations to limit the risks of electronic blank ballot delivery

As states grapple with the difficult task of holding elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, the expansion of vote by mail in many states necessitates an option for voters with disabilities.

The most secure option for remote voting is to mail pre-printed paper ballots to voters. Only voters with a disability impacting their ability to mark a ballot by hand should have access to remote electronic ballot marking systems.

The most secure systems for remote accessible ballot marking confine vote selection data to the voter’s devices, are not connected to the Internet when selections are made, and remove vote choices from all memory upon closing.

The following recommendations can help limit the security and privacy risks introduced with electronic blank ballot delivery and remote electronic ballot marking:

  • Only adopt and certify remote accessible ballot marking systems that confine vote selection data to the voter’s devices and remove vote choices from all memory upon closing.
  • Place limits on electronic ballot delivery, provide only to those who cannot be mailed a pre-printed blank ballot, who are required to have electronic delivery available by law, or who have disabilities that impact the voter’s ability to hand-mark a ballot.
  • Make printing the blank ballot the default action of any ballot download application, and encourage all voters who are able to do so to fill out the printed blank ballot with a pen before mailing.
  • Advise voters who must input their votes electronically to use their own personal devices, networks, and printers, if possible, rather than an employer’s or institution’s infrastructure, unless they are concerned about privacy at home.
  • Recommend clearly that no voter should ever enter enter choices into any device while it is connected to the Internet.
  • Instruct voters who do mark their ballots with a computer or device application to carefully verify that their vote choices were recorded correctly.
  • Disable the barcode feature on accessible ballot marking systems and remake ballots directly from the voters’ selections.
  • Retain the original ballots and use the human readable portion (rather than the remade ballots, barcodes, or QR codes) for audits and recounts.
  • Consider electronically delivered ballots to be at higher risk of unauthorized duplication, warranting authentication of the voter’s identity and eligibility.

From Leveraging Electronic Balloting Options Safely and Securely During the COVID-19 Pandemic by Susan Greenhalgh, Free Speech For People, and Steve Newell, Ph.D., M.M.Sc. AAAS Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues. Presented at the 10th Annual State Certification Testing of Voting Systems National Conference on June 25, 2020 and at DEFCON 28 Safe Mode on August 8, 2020.

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