As local officials and states prepare for 2020 elections, the scientific evidence indicates a number of ways we can improve election security and confidence. The AAAS EPI Center voting security and technology initiative focuses on assisting local, state and federal officials.
The science is clear: Paper ballots, marked either by hand or machine, are the most effective way to ensure that the votes cast in an election reflect voters’ intent. When every vote creates a paper trail that is routinely audited in a statistically-sound method, it provides assurance that votes have been tabulated correctly.
There are increasing calls to allow people to vote online but the evidence tells us that no technology yet guarantees the security and secrecy of Internet voting. While innovative election software and hardware is in development, online voting is not secret or secure. Human-readable paper ballots not only offer the most security, they can be examined, recounted and audited.
Paper ballots remain the most common voting method in the United States but a handful of states continue to use insecure voting machines that electronically record votes without creating a paper record. In 2018, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued a report, Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy. The report found that direct recording electronic machines that record a voter’s selection to the machine’s memory and automatically tabulate votes are not secure and should be removed from service as soon as possible. The scientific community has demonstrated the security vulnerabilities of these direct recording electronic systems, many of which leave no physical record of the cast vote.
The committee of computer science and cybersecurity experts, legal and election scholars, social scientists, and election officials concluded that local, state, and federal elections should be conducted using human-readable paper ballots, either marked by hand or machine. The report also recommends that states mandate audits prior to the certification of election results.