2020 Elections | Security and Safety of Paper Ballots

May 13, 2020

As the 2020 presidential election approaches, citizens heading to the polls may face a wide array of options to allow them to cast their votes, ranging from paperless touchscreen digital polling machines to a hand-filled paper ballot. Paper is now seen as the best choice – for both security concerns and, increasingly, health reasons.

Paper is the most secure way to cast a vote.

According to NPR, experts point out that paperless machines “record votes electronically and could either be manipulated or malfunction without detection. They can’t truly be audited and they leave room for some doubt in the result.” Other voting machines, which are seen as slightly more secure, use a digital interface but print out a paper copy of the digital polling choices entered on the screen with a unique barcode.

For 2020, the Wall Street Journal reports that “nationwide, nearly every state has taken steps toward instituting more paper-supported machinery” following security concerns raised during the 2016 election process. Several states have already shifted to all-mail ballots and phased out the automated kiosks over cybersecurity concerns, while others are using some combination of paperless and paper ballots. According to Politico, “47 states and the District of Columbia rely at least partially on…[these] touchscreen machines that produce paper ballots for every vote.”

This trend aligns with the results from the 2019 Paper and Packaging Board’s consumer survey that found “79% of respondents agree that even as technology becomes more advanced, paper continues to play an important role.”

While hand-marked paper ballots are hailed as the most secure option, states will continue to invest in and rely on technology to process huge volumes of ballots quickly and efficiently.

Paper may address voter safety concerns.

Paper ballots are the most secure solution to guarantee votes are accurately counted, but they may also be the best way to keep voters safe – when it comes to COVID-19 – this November.

Voting by Mail is Easy

1. A ballot arrives in your mailbox during the election period.

2. You mark your ballot, put it in a secrecy envelope and then into a separate mailing envelope, sign an affidavit on the exterior of the mailing envelope, and drop the entire thing into the mail.

Gathering in groups to vote, using the same touchscreen voting stations, or waiting in long lines may or may not be possible, come the fall. At this point in time, it’s too soon to tell how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the presidential election process.

However, the National Conference of State Legislatures notes that “many states are planning for an increase in the use of absentee, or mail, ballots” and are working through legislative actions needed to expand, allow, or include health concerns as an approved reason to vote by mail. Expanding vote-by-mail options will allow people to vote without gathering in one place or touching shared surfaces.

It’s clear that in an era of digital and health vulnerabilities, paper will continue to shine as a trusted and verifiable way to capture votes while ensuring the health and safety of our citizens.

Sources:

“Paper Ballot Costs and Printing,” Voters Unite; “What Happens to All the Ballots From Election Day?” Slate; “Guide to US Presidential Elections for Foreign Visitors,” American Bar Association; “EAVS Deep Dive: Early, Absentee And Mail Voting,” U.S. Election Assistance Commission; “Election Experts Recommend Paper Ballots For 2020 Election,” Wisconsin Public Radio; “Trump Calls for Voter-ID Laws, Use of Paper Ballots as Backup” The Wall Street Journal; Committee On The Future Of Voting: Accessible, Reliable, Verifiable Technology,” National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; “America Needs Paper-Based Ballots for the 2020 Election—Cyber Saturday” Fortune; “Cyber Experts Warn Of Vulnerabilities Facing 2020 Election Machines,” NPR; “Doublecheck that ballot: Controversial voting machines make their primary debut in South Carolina,” Politico; “Super Tuesday brings a supersized election security challenge,” Politico; “Getting Elections Right with Paper Ballots and Audits,” Government Technology; “Voting Machine Security: Where We Stand Six Months Before the New Hampshire Primary,” Brennan Center for Justice; “2019 Campaign Results,” The Paper and Packaging Board; “COVID-19 and Elections,” National Conference of State Legislatures; “All-Mail Elections (aka Vote-By-Mail),” National Conference of State Legislatures.

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