Remote ballot marking systems

How do we make remote ballot marking systems both secure and accessible?

Remote ballot marking systems allow voters to receive a blank ballot to mark electronically, print, and then cast by returning the printed ballot to the elections office.

Can we make them both accessible and secure, so voters can use and trust them?

This project is investigating the “voter journey” for using a remote ballot marking system that supports election integrity while ensuring that the system is accessible to all voters.

The project goal is to propose general principles and guidelines that can inform the design, development, deployment or selection of a remote ballot marking system–and possibly be useful for other online election systems.

Recommendations

We were pleased to discover that there was little conflict between the goals of accessibility and  election integrity. Not only can the requirements for these goals co-exist, but in many cases they support each other.

Final report: Principles for remote ballot marking systems (PDF, updated Feb 10, 2016)

Based on input from a wide range of experts and a review of other literature (including existing standards for voting systems and accessibility), we recommend nine principles for remote ballot marking systems:

  • Principle 1: Trusted and transparent
  • Principle 2: Consistent with other voting options
  • Principle 3: Access for all voters
  • Principle 4: Minimizes privacy and security risks
  • Principle 5: Supports accurate and secret ballot marking
  • Principle 6: Enables easy review, printing, and packing of the ballot
  • Principle 7: Supports election administration procedures
  • Principle 8: Tested for usability for all voters
  • Principle 9: Robust and reliable

The principles are a high level view of the requirements for remote ballot marking systems. For each principle, general guidelines provide further detail about what a remote ballot marking system must do, or the voters must be able to do using it, to meet the principle.

Strong principles and guidelines that provide clear direction for designing and deploying a remote ballot marking system can help election officials choose (or develop) systems that meet the needs of election integrity as well as making it easier for everyone to vote.

Project activities

Remote ballot marking systems are a rich area for research because:

  • They are similar in function to ballot marking devices covered by the VVSG, but there is little guidance or research specifically about them.
  • There are advantages for all voters in using a ballot marking system for usability and accuracy.
  • There are different views on about how to create these tools in a way that supports best practices in election integrity coupled with ease of use.
  • There is a growing number of systems that enable elections offices to provide voters with remote ballot marking tools. Many were originally designed for UOCAVA voters under the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, but voters with disabilities and many other voters want to use them.

As part of the work to develop these recommendations, we convened a meeting of stakeholders, developers, and advocates to explore benefits, barriers, and requirements for remote ballot marking systems to:

  • Create a journey map showing the steps or activities in using a remote ballot marking system.
  • Identify and then explore possible solutions for removing risks and barriers from the systems.
  • Explore high level principles for remote ballot marking systems.

Some of the big design questions we considered:

  • What are the risks or benefits of different ways of obtaining the ballot to mark?
  • What are the risks and benefits of different options for when and how voters authenticate themselves to the system by signing in or confirming personal identification?
  • What are the risks and benefits of different printed ballot formats?
  • How can the system and communications about remote ballot marking be designed to help voters understand the process, and risks or benefits to different aspects of the voting experience?
  • How can the system and communications be designed to encourage and facilitate voter verification of the printed ballot by everyone, including people with visual disabilities

Meeting notes from the meetng (PDF) (PPT version)

Background reading

Some reading in accessibility, privacy, security, and trust in online or remote voting systems. It is not a comprehensive bibliography, but a list of some relevant research to consider.

Terminology (working terms and definitions)

Security and risk analysis 

Accessibility, usability, and trust

Reports on accessibility of other election systems

Internet voting