When Voting, Most of Us Leave a Paper Trail
The threat of foreign interference in our elections is real, and we and other experts agree that paper ballots accompanied by robust audits are an important defense against any tampering with our elections. Despite hysteria from some commentators, however, there is good news on this front. According to a recent GAO report, nearly four out of every five Americans lives in a jurisdiction where their votes are recorded on paper.
In early April, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report about voting equipment use and replacement. That report, in part, looked at the types of voting equipment used in the 2016 general election in local election jurisdictions nationwide. After analyzing data from 564 jurisdictions, the GAO determined that 80 percent of the population nationwide resided within jurisdictions that used voting equipment that resulted in an auditable paper trail1—and more jurisdictions are heading in that direction every day.
Within the last month, two states, Pennsylvania and Delaware, announced that they would be making the transition to voting equipment that produces an auditable paper trail. Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres imposed a requirement that all jurisdictions adopt voting systems that produce an auditable paper trail by December 31, 2019—just in time for the next presidential election. Then, at the EAC Forum in Miami, Delaware State Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove said that there will be a paper component in the state’s new voting system.
So, what does that all mean? Currently about 57 percent of the voters in Pennsylvaniavote on machines that don’t produce an auditable paper trail. Assuming that the voting population is proportionate to the general population, roughly another 2.3 percent of the population nationwide would be covered after Pennsylvania’s transition to auditable systems.2Delaware, on the other hand, exclusively uses voting machines that don’t produce an auditable paper trail. Making the same assumptions as we did with Pennsylvania, Delaware’s adoption of an auditable paper trail would translate to a coverage increase of around 0.3 percent of the voting population nationwide.3Together, that’s another 2.6% of all Americans that would be casting their ballots knowing that an auditable paper trail would follow.
This all goes to show that election officials are taking the threat of election cybersecurity seriously. With the current trend toward increasingly auditable voting systems, it wouldn’t be surprising to read in the next GAO report that 85 or even 90 percent of Americans were in jurisdictions that used voting equipment with an auditable paper trail in the 2020 general election.
1 Auditable paper trails are created by manually marked optical or digital scan ballots (59% of population nationwide), electronically marked optical or digital scan ballots (4% of population nationwide), and direct recording electronic (DRE) machines with a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT).
2 The GAO report relies on 2010 U.S. Census general population data in determining coverage, not a voting-specific population such as voting age population or voting eligible population. Fifty-seven percent of the general population of Pennsylvania in 2010, per the 2010 Census, was 7,240,356, which translates into approximately 2.3 percent of the nationwide population.
3 Delaware’s general population in 2010, per the U.S. Census, was 897,934, or approximately 0.3 percent of the nationwide population.