Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting Statement on Ballot Marking Devices and Risk-limiting Audits

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This statement is intended to clarify Verified Voting’s position regarding the use of ballot-marking devices (BMDs) in elections, and the use of risk-limiting audits (RLAs).  It is approved by the President, Board of Directors, and Staff of Verified Voting.

Ballot-marking devices

Verified Voting believes that voters should vote on paper ballots, but we recognize an important distinction between hand-marked and machine-marked ballots. Hand-marked paper ballots are not subject to inaccuracies or manipulation from software bugs or malicious code. In contrast, machine-marked paper ballots produced using BMDs might not accurately capture voter intent if the software or ballot configuration is buggy or malicious.

Verified Voting specifically opposes the purchase and deployment of new voting systems in which all in-person voters in a polling place are expected to use BMDs. The trustworthiness of an election conducted using BMDs depends critically on how many voters actually verify their ballots, and how carefully they do it. All voters who vote on BMDs should be made aware of the importance of carefully and conscientiously verifying their ballots before casting them, and should be actively encouraged to do so. However, empirical research thus far shows that few voters using BMDs carefully verify their printed ballots. Moreover, if voters do verify BMD-marked ballots and find what they believe are discrepancies, there is no reliable way to resolve whether the voters made mistakes or the BMDs did. For these and other reasons (such as cost) Verified Voting recommends that the use of BMDs be minimized.

Risk-limiting audits

A risk-limiting audit (RLA) is a tabulation audit. It uses statistical methods to provide confidence that the paper ballots are correctly tabulated. It checks only the tabulation. It does not check — among other things — that the BMDs correctly captured the voters’ choices, nor that voters actually verified their ballots, nor that the ballots tabulated are exactly those that should be, with none added, modified or lost.

Verified Voting recommends that any electronic tabulation of paper ballots be checked by a risk-limiting audit. We assist jurisdictions in piloting or running such tabulation audits. However, Verified Voting’s assistance with RLA pilots or RLAs does not imply that Verified Voting endorses that jurisdiction’s equipment, procedures, or election outcomes.

Best practices

Verified Voting strongly advocates for best practices, including hand-marked paper ballots (with some judicious use of BMDs), careful voter verification of machine-marked ballots, strong chain of custody for all paper ballots, proper ballot accounting, and risk-limiting audits to verify tabulations of paper ballots.

 

Verified Voting Board of Directors

Barbara Simons, Ph.D, Board Chair,

IBM Research (retired)

 

David L. Dill, Ph.D

Donald E Knuth Professor, Emeritus, Stanford University

Founder of Verified Voting

 

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, Ph.D

Senior Vice President for a Strong Internet at the Internet Society (ISOC)

 

David Jefferson Ph.D

Computer Scientist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

 

Ronald L. Rivest, Ph.D

MIT Institute Professor of Computer Science

 

Kevin Shelley, J.D.

Former Secretary of State of California

 

Institutional affiliations are provided only for the purpose of identification and do not imply institutional endorsement or approval.

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