Starting from principles: remote ballot marking systems

Remote ballot marking systems are one of the new uses of technology in election administration. As part of a vote-by-mail system, they allow voters to receive a blank ballot to mark electronically, print, and then cast by returning the printed ballot to the elections office.

In a recent project, NIST, the Center for Civic Design, Verified Voting Foundation and experts in security, accessibility, usability, and election administration set out to answer the question:

Can we make remote ballot marking systems both accessible and secure, so voters can use and trust them?

We were pleased to discover that these goals can co-exist in a well-designed system, and in many cases they support each other.

Following the lead of state election directors, we started with strong principles and supporting guidelines for remote ballot marking systems focusing on the important goals for any election system.

These principles 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. The nine principles are listed below.

This isn’t yet a standard. For that, the next step to create a standard is to write normative requirements (and test assertions).

But we think it’s a good start.

More importantly, we can begin the process with a set of goals that everyone can agree on, before trying to write detailed technical requirements.


Principles for remote ballot marking systems

Principle 1: Trusted and transparent
Voters need to trust and understand how to use the remote ballot marking process in order to accept the results of the election.

Principle 2: Consistent with other voting options
The remote ballot marking option should not have special rules that make it inconsistent with the overall election process.

Principle 3: Access for all voters
Remote ballot marking systems can be used by all voters without discrimination.

Principle 4: Minimizes privacy and security risks
Remote ballot marking systems minimize privacy risks by carefully designing the use of personal information that can identify voters throughout the system.

Principle 5: Supports accurate and secret ballot marking
Remote ballot marking systems support voters in marking their ballot without error, and protect the secret ballot.

Principle 6: Enables easy review, printing, and packing of the ballot
Remote ballot marking systems support voters in the activities such as review, printing, signing, and packing the ballot and related materials to enable the ballot to be cast when received at the election office.

Principle 7: Supports election administration procedures
Remote ballot marking systems support election officials in managing returned ballots for election integrity.

Principle 8: Tested for usability for all voters
Remote ballot marking systems meet performance standards for usability and accessibility for all voters.

Principle 9: Robust and reliable
Remote ballot marking systems are designed and maintained to ensure the integrity of the election


Want to know more?

Visit the project page, Remote ballot marking systems: secure and accessible, to learn more about the project.

Read the project report, Principles for remote ballot marking systems, to read the guidelines that support each principle.

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