As the dust settles on the recent US election results and the debate moves from personalities to technologies, social media and conspiracy theorists are alive with debates over the reliability of electronic voting systems in determining the US election outcome.
Irrespective of your opinion of who should have been elected, what is clear is yet again, there is only one absolutely essential security safeguard that protects most voters in any election: paper.
In the rush to devise more efficient and immediate methods of determining election results paper remains the most universally acceptable method and basic fall back in electoral voting processes across the globe. The current debate is also assuming you can’t have both paper based systems, and technology in a single solution. This obviously ignores the possibilities of having an electronic based system that offers the benefits of integrity, immediacy, data automation, document management and user acceptance regardless of age, or technical ability, along with all the underlining security of pen and paper based ballots.
As with most clever systems, perhaps the significant value driver is realised when things go wrong, not when they go right. As is currently the case. And as paper ballots are still the best available technology for casting votes, the issue seems to be more around how you add integrity and intelligence to a proven system that already works, rather than trying to create a completely new method of reproducing what is (at best) an imperfect clone of the legacy system.
And this conclusion, as well as being logical, has actually been tested. During the California Primary Presidential Elections held on June 7th a successful trial pioneered the use of the ePen in Los Angeles. Election authorities from Los Angeles County deployed a solution from Smartmatic to streamline and expedite election reports.
While the debate about how to safeguard future election results using technology or the old method of plain paper ballots rages on, simply reverting back to the tried and tested way is clearly not the solution either. The biggest value in a digital writing solution using plain paper is not just about the fall back of validating soft copies against their paper equivalent, where the data response is suspicious. There is also the digital fall back if the paper goes missing, and a recount of it’s digital equivalent is required.
I will leave the last word on this highly unusual, but possible electoral scenario to the Australian Electoral Commission who were left justifying an expensive and embarrassing vote recount following the ‘disappearance’ of a single ballot box containing around 1000 voter ballots. “Despite searching and researching of warehouses, counting centres, polling places, motor vehicles, the couriers that were involved, they’ve not been located, so I’m not holding out a lot of hope that we’ll find them… (the) controls are good but in this case they failed…I’m obligated to declare the result, irrespective of the fact that these ballots are missing. Legally, I just have no other choice.”
In this case, honesty was the best (and only) policy!