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Senators Push to Require Paper Ballots to Secure Elections

Long before there were concerns about foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election, security experts warned that the electronic voting machines used in many states are insecure and open to tampering and that paper ballots were the most secure voting mechanism. Now, there is new proposed legislation in the Senate that would make paper ballots a requirement for all federal elections.

The introduction of the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act comes at a time when, nearly two years after the 2016 election, there is still considerable discussion about the extent of Russian influence on the outcome and what could have been done to prevent it. Since the early 2000s when electronic voting systems first went into wide use, experts have been publishing details of serious vulnerabilities in the software on the machines and warning that they shouldn’t be used. As early as 2004 a group of academic researchers published a paper that showed considerable flaws in a Diebold electronic voting machine.

“Our analysis shows that this voting system is far below even the most minimal security standards applicable in other contexts. We identify several problems including unauthorized privilege escalation, incorrect use of cryptography, vulnerabilities to network threats, and poor software development processes. We show that voters, without any insider privileges, can cast unlimited votes without being detected by any mechanisms within the voting terminal software,” the paper says.

More recently, J. Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan and an expert on voting system security, demonstrated in a video with _The New York Times_ that a voting machine in use in a number of states right now is subject to compromise, as well.

“Paper plus audits. All elections should be run this way,” Halderman said in the video.

The bill introduced June 12 in the Senate includes specific, detailed language specifying that all federal elections must use paper ballots that can be verified by the voter. The bill also requires that each voter be given the opportunity to correct any mistakes before a ballot is recorded.

“The voting system shall require the use of an individual, durable, voter-verified, paper ballot of the voter’s vote,” the bill says.

“We know that Russia hacked into American voter systems to influence our election."

Also, the measure requires that ballots be stored in a way that ensures that ballots can’t be associated with individual voters after the fact.

“Any failure to secure our elections amounts to disenfranchising American voters. For Americans to have confidence that their votes count, and that election results are free and fair, there absolutely have to be paper ballots and mandatory audits for each and every federal election,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the sponsors of the PAVE Act.

“Leaving the fate of America’s democracy up to hackable election machines is like leaving your front door open, unlocked and putting up a sign that says ‘out of town.’ It’s not a question of if bad guys get in, it’s just a question of when.”

The second major component of the bill is the requirement that officials conduct audits of paper ballots after each election. The audit is designed to be a fail-safe against attacks against the databases in which vote counts are stored, for example.

“Risk-limiting audits are a cost effective way of auditing election results. They generally require inspecting only a small percentage of the ballots cast in an election, and proceed to a full hand count only when sampling does not provide strong evidence that the reported outcome is correct. This will ensure that Americans have confidence in their election results, without the cost of a full recount of every ballot in the country,” the bill says. In addition to Wyden, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), sponsored the bill.

“We know that Russia hacked into American voter systems to influence our election – and we know they’ll try to do it again,” Warren said.