An auditable election system for 2020

An auditable election system for 2020

When Travis County, Texas, decided to review its voting infrastructure, officials had two goals in mind: security and price, according to Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.

The county is looking for an open source system that uses  off-the-shelf hardware, requirements that will help keep cost down, DeBeauvoir said. Officials recently released a request for proposals for the project, dubbed STAR-Vote, that combines electronic and paper ballots to allow for the convenience of an electronic system, but also the record of the paper system.

It’s the “best of both worlds,” DeBeauvoir said.

“There are some folks that are concerned that electronic voting by itself isn’t quite good enough and you need some sort of auditable record with it,” she said. STAR-Vote’s electronic voting produces a paper ballot that the voters verify. Both the electronic vote and the paper ballot will go into the ballot box.

The RFP for the system lays out the county vision for the system. There will be a module for creating ballots using voter databases, a flow map of how voters are meant to move through a precinct during the voting process and an explanation of how the ballots would be cast and counted.

When voters arrive at the polls, the STAR-Vote system signs them in using information from the county's voter registration database and provide a "ballot-style token." This token will be scanned by a ballot control center (BCS) to create a voter ticket. At the voting station, the voters use a touch screen to select candidates and confirm choices. They then retrieve a printed voter record (PVR) that is created along with an encrypted electronic voter record. The printed record has a barcode that is scanned, and the BCS compares the encrypted electronic vote to the scanned vote and sends a message back to the scanner on whether to accept the vote or not.

"If accepted, the paper feeder advances, deposits the PVR into the secure ballot box and adds identifying information to the electronic manifest for the contents of the ballot box," the RFP reads. "If rejected, the BCS indicates the reason for the rejection and notifies the ballot box/scanner to eject the PVR."

The additional security built into STAR-Vote is meant to protect it from malware or “inappropriate” interference from people. “The way the security is designed is with homomorphic encryption, which allows third-party reviewers to confirm outcomes without having to touch the ballots,” DeBeauvoir said. There will also be risk-limiting audits preformed on the system to ensure that the electronic and paper records match.

The goal is to have the system live by 2019, so that it will be ready for the 2020 presidential election, she said.

“Voting systems like STAR-Vote are the way of the future because they do answer voter’s concerns about whether the machine is recording the vote properly, but we need to keep electronic voting in our lives because of all of the advantages,” she said. “We just need a way to audit it, so that it serves us better.”

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at mleonard@gcn.com or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

Click here for previous articles by Leonard.


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