Making Democracy Work

Voting Technology

New Technology Supports Paper Ballots December 7, 2018

The League of Women Voters supports only voting systems that are secure, accurate, re-countable, accessible and transparent. We support replacing our current voting computers with a new technology of hand-marked paper ballots, which will be:
  • The ballot is marked by the voter (may be assisted by a marking device).
  • The voter casts the ballot by feeding the ballot into an optical scanner at the precinct.
  • The scanner counts the vote and drops the ballots into a box, where they are retained for a recount or audit.
  • The paper ballots are the official record of the election.

The new-generation paper ballots have the following advantages:

  • Correction by the voter if the scanner rejects for bad marking. This is a precinct count fail-safe mechanism that does not exist with a central count.
  • Long lines and broken machines should not be a problem with paper ballots. Additional voting stations can be added using additional tables and inexpensive cardboard privacy screens.
  • Ranked Voting and Instant Runoff Voting become possible with paper ballots.
  • Paper ballots can be recounted and/or audited.
  • Vote reporting will be simpler and faster because the paper ballots are not complicated. By contrast, reporting the statewide vote for the iVotronic requires processing of approximately 12,500 memory chips and 2,200 PEBs.
  • The best election is one that the people trust/. The new generation of paper ballots inspires trust because people can verify and hold their ballots, deposit them in the ballot box (scanner) themselves, and know that the actual ballots can be recounted if necessary.

South Carolina's iVotronic computers have a troubled history:

  • In 2007, an examination of the iVotronic computers by three security groups recommended against using them. Problems existed with both the design and coding.
  • When we first looked at computer records of the vote in several SC counties, we found thousands of missing/miscounted/uncounted votes.
  • The State Elections Commission adopted new procedures and wrote computer code (similar to our code) in order to improve the accuracy of the certified totals.
  • Errors are still occurring in reporting the vote totals. Although the manufacturer has provided updates to the software, incorrect totals and anomalies are still occurring.

Paper ballots and tabulating computers are the only obvious choices to replace the iVotronic computers.

Tabulating computers pose a number of problems:

  • Tabulating computers, such as the ES&S ExpressVote, may be understood as an iVotronic computer with an attached printer. The iVotronic computers accumulate the total vote in electronic data files in their memories. Tabulating computers also accumulate the total vote in electronic data files in their memories.
  • When using tabulating computers, the vote can be counted from the paper ballots or from the electronic data files. Since these two methods can result in different totals, the South Carolina Code of Laws must specify which method produces the official totals.
  • Currently, the electronic data in the memories of the iVotronic computers are used to count and recount the vote, setting a precedent that will allow the tabulating computers to count and recount the vote. If so, the paper ballots will never be used for anything except taking up storage space.
  • These electronic data are vulnerable to undetected coding errors, machine failure, and other types of computer problems.
  • The electronic data is vulnerable to fraud, hacking and cyber-attack. The danger from cyber-attack, not the larger cost of the tabulating computers, may be the most important factor favoring the adoption of paper ballots.
  • The ES&S ExpressVote tabulating computer uses barcodes on its ballots to count the vote. The text that the voter verifies, is not used to count the vote. Because the voter cannot verify his ballot, the ES&S ExpressVote is unacceptable.
  • Tabulating computers are unacceptable if they can alter the ballot after the voter has verified it.
  • The use of wireless communication, mobile telephone connection, optical scanners or the internet to transmit vote totals is unacceptable because they open pathways for cyber criminals to modify the vote totals.

Estimated cost of equipment (Statehouse Report, Nov. 26, 2018):

  • Tabulators/Computers: Estimated $62.5+ million (12,500 tabulators x $5,000 each). In addition, expect at least $1 million annual fee, as in now paid by the counties.
  • Paper ballots and one tabulating computer per precinct: Estimated $22 million. ($5,000/tabulator X 2,200 precincts plus $5,000/scanner x 2,200 precincts). In addition, expect an annual fee of $100 per tabulating computer.
  • The requirement of one tabulator computer per precinct is to accommodate visually challenged voters.
  • Expected lifetime of the new equipment must be considered.

Tabulators/computers are undesirable because they are expensive, not transparent, have been shown to result in incorrect counts, and constantly raise serious issues of computer security.

Paper ballots, on the other hand, produce a permanent official record that is inexpensive, easily understood by the voter, re-countable, difficult to hack, and trusted by voters.

SC Legislature's Join Voting System Research Committee

91.27. (LEG: Voting System Research Committee) There is createdby the SC Legislature a joint legislative committee, entitled the "Joint Voting System Research Committee." The committee shall identify and evaluate current voting system technologies that meet the standards established by Title 7 of the 1976 Code.

The committee shall issue a report which shall include, but is not limited to, the following: (1) an evaluation of each form of voting system technology considered by the committee, including costs, usability, reliability, accessibility, ability to conduct random audits of election results, and security matters related to each, as well as any possible solutions to address any concerns raised; (2) consideration of best practices established by the United States Election Assistance Commission; and (3) an analysis as to which technology should be implemented in South Carolina. This analysis shall include costs to acquire and fully implement the recommended technology for a statewide uniform voting system. The analysis must include proposed milestones and success measures for implementation.

The report shall be submitted to the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee no later than January 30, 2016, after which the committee shall be dissolved.

The Committe held its first meeting on November 10, 2015. Click Here for the Nov. 10th Agenda.

League Member Duncan Buell, a USC professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department, presented the following testimony at this meeting.

An Example of an RFP for Acquisition of New Equipment

Stephanie Singer, city commissioner for Philadelphia, has drafted a Request For Proposals for new voting equipment for that city.

Presentation to the Legislative Audit Council

Aternative Voting Technologies

The LWVSC has organized a task force on alternative voting technologies. Further information can be found here.

Election Audits

An Audit of the South Carolina 2012 General Election of November 6, 2012.

"An Audit of the South Carolina 2012 Republican Presidential Preference Primary of January 21, 2012 (Interim Report 2/24/2012)," a report and analysis.

Auditing a DRE-based Election in South Carolina

Op-Eds in South Carolina Newspapers

What's New: LWVSC Interview with State Election Officials

The LWVSC recently had an interview with Marci Andino, executive director of the South Carolina State Elections Commission. A report on that meeting can be found here.

News Release 1/21/08

League of Women Voters Calls on State Elections Commission to Address Voting System Problems -- press release

LWVSC Positions and Briefs on Voting Technology

Background and Action on Voting Technology Issues

The white paper, Unsafe for Any Ballot Count: A Computer Scientist's Look at the ES&S iVotronic in Light of Reports from Ohio, California, and Florida, was prepared for LWVSC following the publication in December 2007 of the report by the Secretary of State of Ohio.

LWVSC has published a Letter to the Editor, Vote in the Presidential Primaries, in major newspapers in South Carolina.

The report from Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner can be found here.

The report to the Florida Secretary of State can be found here.

The report from California Secretary of State Debra Bowen can be found here. (Note that the California report does not address the iVotronic voting machine used in South Carolina, but that many of the issues raised in Ohio and in Florida are issues raised in California about other voting machines.)

The draft report written for the National Institute of Standards and Technology regarding "software independence" in voting machines. (Warning: this is a technical paper.)

Another draft report to NIST on software independence. (Warning: this is also a technical paper.)