Fair elections require administrative processes that makes voting easy and gives voters confidence that their vote will count. Part of FairVote's initiative is to make sure we understand how our elections are administered and if there should be common systems reforms.
One of the most necessary steps to guaranteeing fair elections is understanding the voting equipment used and error rates.
Voting equipment should be easy to use and ensure that every ballot cast is recorded correctly. In 2000, the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology project found that between 4-6 million votes were not counted due to poor ballot design and machine error. In 2004, the same group found that over 1.2 million votes were not counted due to similar problems. The study concluded that the reduction in error was the result of improvement in voting equipment, especially the reduction of punch card ballots and the increased use of equipment that limited the possibility of voter error. States that did not upgrade their equipment, such as California, Connecticut, Iowa, and Nebraska, experienced higher voter error in 2004.
At the same time that states are replacing punch cards and lever machines with optical scan machines or electronic voting equipment, it is necessary to make sure that the new equipment used is safe and secure. All Americans can agree that voting equipment should be designed to ensure that every vote cast is correctly counted. In light of recent elections, the need for secure and accurate voting equipment has never been more critical. In 2000, the presidential election was decided by a mere 537 votes; and in 2004, gubernatorial races in Washington and Montana were decided by less than 150 votes each.
While there is no clear evidence that voting machines have been tampered with to alter electoral results, many computer scientists agree that electronic voting machines can be programmed to produce certain results.
Reform advocates believe that one possible avenue to ensure secure digital voting is to have the government own and have full control of elections. They should own the equipment and make the source code available to the public so that the machines can be independently tested. Moreover, a voter verified paper ballot will provide a secondary check to confirm that the equipment is working correctly and provide the documentation necessary for a true audit.
A voter verified paper ballot can be used in place of direct recording equipment (DRE's) through s Optical Scan and AutoMark-type technology that utilizes a genuine paper ballot to ensure that election results can be audited. The ideal method, to maximize security and integrity, is to have a redundant record of every vote. This means a system that has both a computerized record, or "ballot image" of each vote, as well as a paper ballot record of each individual vote (rather than merely running totals). This allows the comparison of the two records as an additional layer of security.
Optical scan machines are examples of acceptable technology. Paper ballot machines with a computerized interface may be acceptable if they generate paper ballots as the official ballots of record and print ballots that are easily readable and test well for usability.
These should be coupled with a manual audit and other protocols such as proper pre- and post-election testing, ballot accounting and secure chain of custody. All government elections should be subject to random, manual, statistical audits able to confirm election outcomes with a high level of confidence. Because Internet voting cannot achieve the standards above, it should not be used for government elections in the U.S. We recognize the right of private associations to run their election on-line if their members are willing to accept the inherent risk that comes with online voting.
Advanced voting methods, such as those using ranked-choice ballots, pose no more risk of fraud than more commonly used voting methods and do not depend on the use of electronic voting. FairVote urges jurisdictions, whether adopting advanced voting methods or not, to also institute the above recommended procedures and voter-verifiable and auditable voting technologies. We urge jurisdictions to set a new and higher standard of transparency by following the precedent of cities such as Burlington, VT and San Francisco, CA, in running ranked-ballot elections, and implement "open source ballots" by also posting the computerized record of every ballot on the Internet.
Longer term, FairVote believes that voting equipment and election administration in the United States requires a national elections commission to create minimum national election standards, and explore purchase of "public interest voting equipment" whereby the software and voting equipment is open source and publicly owned.
Another way to increase confidence in the voting system and guarantee more fair elections is to have nonpartisan officials make decisions about election administration.
In almost every state, the secretary of state or an appointed election official administers elections. Even though these officials are responsible for executing state and federal electoral policy and setting election procedures, there are few standards to which election officials must adhere. Most election officials are law-abiding and execute laws to the best of their ability. Yet, without standards or requirements in place there is no guarantee all election administrators will act in this manner, as recent elections have demonstrated.
Secretaries of state serving as state campaign chairs create the appearance of a conflict of interest, even if none exists. In the past two election cycles, the secretaries of state in two battleground states came under intense scrutiny because of their connection with presidential campaigns. Secretaries of State Katherine Harris and J. Kenneth Blackwell served as state chairs for Bush-Cheney in 2000 and 2004, respectively. Although no one formally accused these individuals of wrongdoing, the perception of impropriety is enough to undermine the legitimacy of the electoral process.