Even with QR codes, the paper ballot is human readable, and it is the human readable portion that is checked during the audit. If a malicious actor sought to corrupt the codes or any other part of the ballot, it would be discovered in the audit, and the human readable portion of the ballot will be the official ballot. And as noted by Prof. Wallach, it is highly likely a sufficient number of voters will verify their ballot, and there are tools election officials will use to maximize verification, including good signage (required by Georgia law), live audits, and reminders from poll workers.
In addition, BMDs have several advantages. BMDs allow voters with disabilities and other needs to mark a ballot independently, on ballots that can be verified and audited, whereas many such voters cannot vote independently with a pen. BMDs also eliminate the possibilities – experienced in significant numbers in states where ballots are marked in pen – of a voter invalidating their own vote, by voting more than allowed in any race, and reduce the possibility of forgetting to vote in an important race or mismarking a ballot so that the counting machines don’t recognize the vote.
Thus, Prof. Wallach, along with many other election technology experts, has concluded that “BMDs give us the security benefits of paper with the accessibility benefits of computers.”
And for those who still, despite all the evidence, prefer to mark a paper ballot by pen, Georgia, like the majority of states, has the answer. Every registered voter in Georgia can request an absentee ballot by mail, without any excuse, enabling them to personally mark that ballot. Yes, the odds that the hand-marked ballot will contain errors is higher, but in Georgia, all voters have a choice.
Over the next several months, the state will be working with local election officials and other experts to implement rules that will ensure effective audits, accessibility, and strong security. This process began earlier this month with a roundtable I helped host with cybersecurity and election experts from around the state and the country. Beginning next March, voters in Georgia will experience an easy and accessible process, and can vote knowing their ballot is more secure than ever.
David Becker is executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research in Washington, D.C., a nonpartisan non-profit working to improve election access and security. He has been a senior trial attorney with the U.S. Justice Department’s Voting Section, where he oversaw voting law enforcement in several states, including Georgia.