Ballot marking devices can have significant advantages. They offer the ability to listen to the ballot through a set of headphones for voters who have difficulty reading the printed ballot. Ballot marking devices also offer increased font sizes, high contrast, and other features to make the appearance of the ballot easier to read based on an individual voter’s need. The devices also typically feature hookups for sip and puff devices, switches, or other types of personal assistive technology that people with physical disabilities may use to access electronic devices.
Whether a paper ballot is tabulated initially with a barcode, or by software programmed to read a hand-mark as a certain vote, we can and should audit those ballots to ensure that the human-readable portion of the ballot matches how the ballot was counted. No system is completely unhackable, as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania’s Election Security, and experts in elections and cybersecurity have concluded. Only through strong audits of the human-readable part of a ballot can we be sure the count was correct, regardless of whether that ballot was originally hand-marked or marked by a ballot marking device, with or without a barcode. Both must be audited to be secure, and both are secure when audited.
Each state should review what works best for its diverse population, considering not only security, but also accessibility, usability, and cost. Georgia has done this, understandably deciding on ballot marking devices, as they offer accessibility to all voters. As Georgia decides on a particular ballot marking device, it will need to continue weighing these factors, and be wary of vendors that exert undue influence or flaunt ethics requirements to sell their products. But the fact remains that ballot marking devices, like hand-marked paper ballots, can be secure and auditable.
Russia revels when we are divided on issues relating to protecting our democracy, when Democrat opposes Republican, or when those without disabilities support a “separate but equal” system of voting for those with disabilities. We should not help the Russians in their efforts. Election security is not a partisan issue, and we need not trade accessibility for security. When voting systems that produce paper ballots can provide an inclusive experience for all voters, and are coupled with robust audits, we can ensure vote counts are accurate, while protecting the rights of those with disabilities to vote independently.
David Becker is executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. He is an election administration and security expert who was a trial attorney in the voting section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Michelle Bishop is the voting rights specialist for the National Disability Rights Network, where she provides training and technical assistance to NDRN’s network on voting access for people with disabilities.
David Becker is executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. He is an election administration and security expert who was a trial attorney in the voting section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.Michelle Bishop is the voting rights specialist for the National Disability Rights Network, where she provides training and technical assistance to NDRN’s network on voting access for people with disabilities.