As this report illustrates, voting in the United States is a complicated process that involves multiple levels of government, personnel with a variety of skills and capabilities, and numerous electronic systems that interact in the performance of a multitude of tasks. Unfortunately, our current system is vulnerable to internal and external threats.
As the U.S. elections system has undergone significant technological changes and adapted to meet changing needs, the American electorate has largely remained confident that the ballots it casts are accurately counted and tabulated. Nevertheless, recent events make it clear that our system of voting must evolve in order to also protect against external actors who wish to undermine confidence in democratic institutions. The new foreign threat has profound implications for the future of voting and obliges us to seriously reexamine both the conduct of elections in the United States and the role of federal and state governments in securing our elections. We must think strategically and creatively about the administration of U.S. elections. We must confront barriers (both real and perceived) that inhibit partnerships that would facilitate reliable, accessible, verifiable, and secure voting. We must foster an environment that promotes innovation in election systems technology, provides election administrators with human resource tools to increase the professionalization of the election workforce, allocates appropriate resources for the operation of elections, and better secures elections by developing auditing tools that provide assurances that ballots cast are counted and tabulated correctly and that the results of elections are accurate.
We have witnessed tremendous technological advances in recent decades, but we must give careful consideration to the adoption of tech-
nologies that might increase convenience for voters. We do not, at present, have the technology to offer a secure method to support Internet voting. It is certainly possible that individuals will be able to vote via the Internet in the future, but technical concerns preclude the possibility of doing so securely at present. It is difficult to secure the electronic systems used in voting even now. In systems ranging from electronic voter registration databases and electronic pollbooks to voting systems, corresponding physical records are essential for matching purposes. Furthermore, election administrators must have the capacity to conduct routine audits on their electronic systems throughout the election process.
To fully address the challenges inherent in electronic election systems and to prevent foreign interference, federal, state, and local officials must adopt innovative measures to ensure that the results of elections reflect the will of the electorate. Election systems in the future must be not only secure but also adaptive and resilient. To ensure the integrity of the voting process, we must be constantly vigilant, have the ability to verify and safeguard data, make continuous improvements in voting processes and technologies, and, through engagement and transparency, consistently educate and reassure our electorate. If the challenges currently facing our election systems are ignored, we risk an erosion of confidence in our elections system and in the integrity of our election processes.
THE ROLE OF THE U.S. ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMMISSION AND FEDERAL AGENCIES
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) performs an important role in U.S. elections by serving as a clearinghouse for information on election administration, establishing voting system guidelines, accrediting testing laboratories, certifying voting systems, and overseeing the disbursement of funds for the improvement of elections. Each of these functions enhances the conduct of elections. To perform these functions properly, the EAC depends on adequate funding and resources.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) assists the EAC by providing critical technical expertise. Working together, NIST and the EAC have made numerous contributions to the improvement of electronic voting systems. However, as this report indicates, there are many technical obstacles to overcome if electronic voting systems are to be secured from external and internal threats.
Other federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense, have, through their research programs, made positive contributions to our understanding of elections and election administration.
- 7.1 Congress should provide appropriate funding to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to carry out the functions assigned to it in the Help America Vote Act of 2002 as well as those articulated in this report.
- 7.2 Congress should authorize and provide appropriate funding to the National Institute of Standards and Technology to carry out its current elections-related functions and to perform the additional functions articulated in this report.
7.3 Congress should authorize and fund immediately a major initiative on voting that supports basic, applied, and translational research relevant to the administration, conduct, and performance of elections. This initiative should include academic centers to foster collaboration both across disciplines and with state and local election officials and industry.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, National Science Foundation, and U.S. Department of Defense should sponsor research to:
- determine means for providing voters with the ability to easily check whether a ballot sent by mail has been dispatched to him or her and, subsequently, whether his or her marked ballot has been received and accepted by the appropriate elections officials;
- evaluate the reliability of various approaches (e.g., signature, biometric, etc.) to voter authentication;
- explore options for testing the usability and comprehensibility of ballot designs created within tight, pre-election timeframes; • understand the effects of coercion, vote buying, theft, etc., especially among disadvantaged groups, on voting by mail and to devise technologies for reducing this threat;
- determine voter practices regarding the verification of ballot marking device–generated ballots and the likelihood of voters, both with and without disabilities, will recognize errors or omissions;
- assess the potential benefits and risks of Internet voting;
- evaluate end-to-end-verifiable election systems in various election scenarios and assess the potential utility of such systems for Internet voting; and
- address any other issues that arise concerning the integrity of U.S. elections.
As a nation, we have the capacity to build an elections system for the future, but doing so requires focused attention from citizens, federal, state, and local governments, election administrators, and innovators in academia and industry. It also requires a commitment of appropriate resources. Representative democracy only works if all eligible citizens can participate in elections, have their ballots accurately cast, counted, and tabulated, and be confident that their ballots have been accurately cast, counted, and tabulated.