n the wake of revelations that the Russian government was targeting U.S. voting systems in the last election, Congress has finally acted. Delaware is about to receive a check from the federal government for $3 million to upgrade its voting systems.
Jennifer Hill is lobbyist and program director for Delaware Common Cause. Phil Keisling is chair of the National Vote at Home Coalition and the former Oregon Secretary of State.
In the wake of revelations that the Russian government was targeting U.S. voting systems in the last election, Congress has finally acted. Delaware is about to receive a check from the federal government for $3 million to upgrade its voting systems.
Fortunately, Delaware is in the process of purchasing a new voting system. The General Assembly established an Election Equipment Selection Task Force, led by Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove. The Task Force was charged with exploring new voting systems, but chose to only to review machines. This review misses one of the best alternatives that can help ensure security in our elections: the paper ballot.
Read Commissioner Manlove's views on new voting machines
Not only is our election security at stake in this process, but so are our tax dollars. Seven voting machine companies are vying to sell machines to the state at an estimated cost of $15-25 million.
Phil Keisling is chair of the National Vote at Home
Phil Keisling is chair of the National Vote at Home Coalition and the former Oregon Secretary of State. (Photo: Submitted)
However, moving to a paper ballot system would be more affordable and can better secure our votes. In a paper ballot system, polling places would have stations where voters could mark paper ballots with a pen and have the option of using a ballot marking device. The ballot marking devices have an accessible computer interface, but they produce an actual paper ballot.
Last year, Virginia moved to all-paper ballots and decommissioned all of its outdated voting machines, while neighboring Maryland did so a few years earlier.
Some will argue that Delaware should simply upgrade our old voting machines to newer, more expensive ones that produce a paper record but still store the votes in the computer software. But this is the wrong approach for several reasons.
Story From WallyPark
How to Simplify in 2018
See more →
Although they produce a paper receipt, these machines are inferior in security and cost when compared with an all-paper ballot system. They key to catching a hacker who has altered computer generated election results is to audit the actual paper ballots manually.
Paper can’t be hacked.
However, the paper receipts are difficult to handle. Plus, the paper receipts these machines produce are not considered valid ballots, yet voters must still check the receipt to ensure that their machine selections match those on the receipt.
A paper ballot completed by a voter eliminates this problem. It is the valid vote and receipt at the same time.
Credible estimates suggest that Delaware could save millions in start-up costs by moving to all-paper ballots. And the transition costs would be greatly, if not completely, covered by the $3 million recently appropriated by the U.S. Congress for election improvement.
Before making any rash decisions, Delaware decision-makers need to seriously consider the cost and efficacy of using an all-paper ballot system. Moreover, they should also consider the new direction set by election officials in a growing number of states to implement “Vote at Home” (VAH) elections.
In the 2016 election, almost 25 percent of all votes cast (33 million) were cast through the use of mailed paper ballots, whether in ‘all-mail’ states or via absentee ballots that allow voters to receive one simply by asking for one. Full Vote at Home systems also include hundreds of secure locations where voters can physically return their ballots if they prefer before or on Election Day, while free-standing “Vote Centers” allow voters to be issued new or replacement ballots, or update their registrations.
Delaware needs to catch up to this growing movement. Current Delaware Code restricts absentee ballot use to those voters who can prove a need, and so just 3 percent did so in 2016.
In states with much higher use of mailed-out ballots, voter turnout is consistently higher. In the three U.S. "Vote at Home” states where every voter is automatically mailed a ballot, the results are astounding: Oregon, Colorado, and Washington averaged 82 percent voter turnout in 2016, with Colorado leading the pack at 86 percent.
That’s way better than Delaware’s 70 percent turnout among "active" voters. And because true Vote at Home states do not have to run parallel processes for absentee and in-person voting, they save about $2-$5 per voter per election. Those savings compound, year after year.
For all of these reasons and more, elected officials and the Election Commissioner of Delaware need to consider moving to an all-paper ballot, including a Vote at Home system before buying any new machines. We need a secure, cost effective system that increases voter turnout.