Report: Paper Ballots More Secure, Accurate Than E-Voting

Fortify Software gives tips for ensuring your vote is actually counted and uncompromised by hackers

Dark Reading Staff, Dark Reading

October 16, 2008

2 Min Read

Casting your ballot by paper is the safest bet that your vote will be counted in this year’s election, according to a new report on voting security by Fortify Software.

Fortify ranked the most popular voting mechanisms by security and privacy to help voters ensure their vote is actually counted and safe from hacking. No. 1 is hand-counted paper and then optical scan; absentee; direct recording electronic (DRE); lever machine; and punch card.

“In November, voters will participate in one of the most critical elections in U.S. history, and unfortunately many will still be at risk of inaccurate vote tallying and e-voting software vulnerabilities,” says Brian Chess, chief scientist and co-founder of Fortify Software.

Different states and voting precincts offer different voting options. Paper ballots may seem old-fashioned, but they are actually the most accurate when it comes to counting votes because they are counted manually and easier to track, the Fortify report said. They also give voters a chance to verify their choices before they place the ballots in the ballot box. Only 10 states offer this option, including Alaska, Colorado, Maine, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

No. 2 on the list is optical-scan voting, where a hand-cast paper ballot is scanned by a computer that counts it. This method is used in all but 10 states and is considered the most accurate and verifiable way to vote. Around 55 percent of all voters will use paper ballots or optical scan voting in this election, the report said.

Absentee ballots, meanwhile, can be less accurate because a voter can’t ensure that their vote is counted, and there’s no privacy guarantee since the voter makes his or her selections outside the privacy of a polling booth.

DRE systems are the computerized voting machines that let you cast your vote via touch screen or button interfaces, and it’s recorded electronically. These systems have been criticized for lack of verifiability and accuracy, according to the report.

Electronic voting systems also have raised hacking concerns. “It is simply dangerous to rely on today’s electronic voting machines to deliver a fair and accurate election,” says Avi Rubin, professor of computer science at John Hopkins University. “The software flaws we uncovered before the 2004 election continue to plague today’s voting systems, and Fortify Software’s study provides voters with a solid assessment of their voting options for this November.”

Fortify said in the report that state and federal election officials must work with voting machine vendors to ensure security is built into their software so that citizens can be assured that every vote does count.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

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Dark Reading Staff

Dark Reading

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