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CVD's Position on Proprietary Software and Paper Trails

December 2002

The Center for Voting and Democracy works to ensure that every vote counts and all voters are represented.  Toward these ends, we advocate instant runoff voting, proportional representation and public-interest redistricting.  These reforms encourage a greater variety of candidates to run for office, allow voters to vote for their preferred candidate without fear of assisting their least favorite candidate, minimize wasted votes, and boost competition.  The Center therefore encourages all jurisdiction to ensure that new voting equipment be able to accommodate instant runoff voting and proportional representation.  This can easily be accomplished by requiring that voting equipment be able to handle ranked ballots and cumulative voting as referred to in the FEC's new voting system standards.

It would be unfortunate if new equipment ended up preventing the adoption of fairer voting systems.

At the same time, it is essential to minimize:

  1. Fraud and the perception of fraud,
  2. Errors in counting ballots, and
  3. Errors in casting ballots. 

The chief means for avoiding fraud is transparency; it is essential to make all aspects of the election process as public as possible, from the certification of voting equipment to pre- and post-election logic and accuracy testing to the counting and canvassing of ballots.

Modern voting equipment tends to meet very high standards for vote counting errors, with error rates typically less than 1 in 10,000 or 1 in 100,000 under test conditions. The key then becomes the detection and correction of errors after Election Night.

The Center believes that the following steps would help alleviate the concerns some have expressed that electronic voting equipment is more susceptible to fraud and errors than non-electronic equipment:

  • The use of open-source software.
  • The availability of non-open-source software to public inspection and testing.
  • The storage of both an electronic record and a voter-verifiable paper record of each ballot cast.

The preservation of both electronic and paper records permits the detection and correction of ballot tampering after voters cast their ballots.  The paper records ensure voters that their ballots were cast as intended and permits an independent audit of any software and computerized equipment used in the election.

Finally, all voting equipment should give voters warnings about undervotes and overvotes and allow voters to review and correct their ballots before casting them.

If voting equipment and software meet the standards described above, the U.S. will have fairer elections that people trust.

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Copyright 2002     The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave. Suite 610, Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616        [email protected]