Civics Notes Throwback: Ballot Security

"Civic Notes Throwback" is a series where we highlight civic articles from past newsletters (published in Fall 2020). This article was originally published on October 27, 2020.

By Evan Varghese, Emily Doctor, and Inez Lopez

A modernizing world makes for a modernizing voting system. Since 2000, more and more Texas counties have worked to replace the old punch-card systems with a more modem system — electronic ballots. But with this comes the concern of security

In 2016, accusations of fraud upset voters' faith in the electoral system. A 2018 survey conducted by Pew reported 55% of American responders had little faith in the security of federal elections, and 33% had little faith in the security of state elections. While critical engagement in government is necessary for its proper functioning, it is equally important to understand what protections we do have.

To ensure security and safety, Texas electronic voting machines have to pass through rigorous testing processes outlined by the Texas Election Code; the relevant section of which can be found here. The code outlines the three different types of required testing a machine is expected to pass.

One section is “hardware,” which focuses on the physical soundness and construction of each machine. Another is “logic and accuracy,” which confirms that the machine processes information quickly and correctly. Both of these kinds of testing should be familiar to any STEM student that spends a lot of time debugging and prototyping. They concern the proper functioning of the system itself in the face of normal inputs and edge cases, which are user inputs that come very close to being invalid: e.g. a blank ballot or a ballot with all write-ins. These tests prevent malfunction relating to user input and information. 

For especially concerned voters who are apprehensive towards the vote counting process, there is another category of machine testing: the “Post-Election Audit,” a kind of testing less likely to be found in one of your classes. In this testing process, 1% of precinct elections are manually reviewed to ensure correctness. This consistent human involvement ensures that a broken system isn’t floated right under our noses.

Of course, this whole system is designed with voter privacy in mind first: the same controls and guards placed on physical voting are present in electronic voting. As technology and society progress, it only makes sense that new methods of voting will follow. With this information in mind, vote in federal and local elections without worry!

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