Dear America: Want secure elections? Stick to pen and paper for ballots, experts urge

Computer voting not yet ready for prime time, say boffins

The upcoming 2020 US presidential election should be conducted on paper, since there is no way currently to make electronic and internet voting secure.

That's according to a dossier from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which probed the fallout of alleged Russian meddling with America's 2016 elections, and concluded that voting systems anywhere near the internet or a computer network were too vulnerable to be relied on to collect and tabulate vote counts.

“Elections should be conducted with human-readable paper ballots. These may be marked by hand or by machine (using a ballot-marking device); they may be counted by hand or by machine (using an optical scanner),” the US-based academics recommended in their report this week.

“Recounts and audits should be conducted by human inspection of the human-readable portion of the paper ballots. Voting machines that do not provide the capacity for independent auditing (e.g., machines that do not produce a voter-verifiable paper audit trail) should be removed from service as soon as possible.”

The recommendations come after the eggheads looked into the various allegations of Russian government hackers menacing and infiltrating US state voting systems in an effort to sway the outcome of the 2016 elections – or at least muddy the waters.

As a result, the report claimed, nearly every part of the voter registration, balloting, and counting system needs to be reevaluated to not only make sure the systems are secure, but easy to audit and track throughout the election process.


“Today, long-standing concerns about outdated and insecure voting systems and newer developments such as cyberattacks, the designation of election systems as critical infrastructure, and allegations of widespread voter fraud, have combined to focus attention on U.S. election systems and operations,” the team wrote.

“The issues highlighted in 2016 add urgency to a careful reexamination of the conduct of elections in the United States and demonstrate a need to carefully consider tradeoffs with respect to access and cybersecurity.”

Among the immediate recommendations is that elections systems, for the short term at least, be unplugged altogether. Finding that election authorities were unable to properly protect and manage their connected election systems, the report concludes that cables should be cut.

“At the present time, the internet (or any network connected to the internet) should not be used for the return of marked ballots,” the report read.

“Further, internet voting should not be used in the future until and unless very robust guarantees of security and verifiability are developed and in place, as no known technology guarantees the secrecy, security, and verifiability of a marked ballot transmitted over the internet.” ®

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