How to build a trustworthy election system
Data frameworks, poll books and audit trails can help election offices maintain election security, integrity and accuracy.
It’s time to inspect your election system.
As voting officials face increasing scrutiny over election results, governments must strengthen their voting systems and processes with accurate data and secure technology, according to a recent report from the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a bipartisan, independent federal organization that provides officials with guidance and resources to improve voting systems.
“Many of the issues … affecting voters on election day, such as being registered in an old address, can be alleviated if elections offices had more timely access to updated address information for voters,” EAC Commissioner and Vice Chair Ben Hovland said during a virtual meeting yesterday to discuss election data maintenance.
“The reality is that every day large numbers of Americans move, or turn 18 and become eligible to vote, and conversely, Americans pass away every day,” Hovland said. “For election officials, this means lists maintenance is a constant ongoing effort.”
A statewide database can improve matching capabilities across agencies that collect voter registration data such as post offices or motor vehicle departments, Commissioner Donald Palmer said.
Current data on voter addresses also allow elections offices to reduce printing, postage and staff costs wasted by sending mail and ballots to a bad address, Palmer added. Officials can also deter election fraud with an accurate voter database by identifying ineligible or fraudulent voters, Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams said.
Use of electronic poll books to streamline voter data processing is growing among governments, the report stated, allowing poll workers to access their jurisdiction’s voter database and verify individual’s registration on site with e-poll books. According to EAC’s 2020 Election Administration and Voting Survey, 17 states are using them in all jurisdictions.
E-poll books can also provide real-time data on voter turnout, wait times and the amount of time it takes for poll workers to check in voters, according to the report. Using these insights, officials can implement practices to reduce voting center congestion for smoother election processes in the future.
Another way election offices can increase security is by establishing an audit trail, according to the report. “There’s never a good reason for a government record to be inaccurate,” Adams said.
Diligent documentation of voter registrations and ballots, candidate correspondence, district maps and other records can set governments up for a smoother pre- and post-election audit. Most election management and voter registration software automatically generates audit logs, the report stated, but software should also track who changes or updates records through secure log-in systems.
All electronic data must be backed up and stored off site for added security, the report stated. When it comes to election hardware, election officials must maintain a chain of custody for the equipment and supplies at all facilities.
In addition to keeping a paper-based inventory, election officials can track equipment such as voting machines with barcoding, GPS and RFID chips, according to the report. To ensure voting systems are not affected by environmental conditions, officials should be sure the temperature changes do not affect the technology’s capabilities or affect their logic and accuracy.
In the end, accurate and timely voter list maintenance is key to election integrity and security, Commissioner Christy McCormick.
“Done well, a list maintenance program has the ability to ensure the accuracy [and] integrity of our elections and to help improve the voting experience in the polling place for voters,” Hovland said.