Publish Ballot Images
Publishing ballot images online is a relatively simple way we can restore trust and bring accountability to our voting systems. When published with open-source tabulation software, ballot images can help to assure that election results are legitimate, and that close races have been resolved accurately.
Open Election Initiative is collecting a Ballot Image Archive to demonstrate the power of this idea.
Reasons to Publish Ballot Images
1. MAKES IT HARDER TO MANIPULATE AN ELECTION
Publishing ballot images adds an extra deterrent against election fraud. Attackers would have to change the vote counts, alter the paper ballots, fabricate ballot images, and hide their tracks.
2. CAN BE PULLED FROM TODAY’S VOTING MACHINES
Many of the voting machines in use today create scanned images of paper ballots. There is no need to wait for major election reforms or technology upgrades.
3. CITIZENS CAN DO IT ON THEIR OWN
Citizens can request ballot images through freedom of information laws. Advocating that ballot images be published automatically by election officials is the next step.
4. INDEPENDENT ELECTION VERIFICATION
Publishing ballot images opens the door to independent election verification, through a citizen hand count, or by tabulating votes using open-source software not operated by voting machine vendors or election administrators.
5. CAN MOTIVATE ELECTION TECHNOLOGY REFORM
Ballot images are especially important in close elections. Newer technologies have a lower error rate than some of the older voting machines in use. Publishing low-resolution images can accelerate demand for reform.
Ballot Image Pioneers
Researchers at Berkeley and the University of California, San Diego were inspired to develop an automated, independent means of interpreting and tabulating scanned ballot images for post-election audits. They wrote the open-source program OpenCount, improving it over several iterations and describing it in several papers. OpenCount is able to generate cast vote records using only scanned ballot images, with some manual data entry to label races and candidates. It was used successfully in a risk-limiting audit pilot program in nearly a dozen California counties. The software is being further developed by the election technology vendor Free & Fair.
Humboldt County Election Transparency Project
Election integrity advocates in northern California were inspired to audit voting machine results in Humboldt County. With cooperation from local election officials, they scanned paper ballots with an independent tabulation program and published the ballots online where anyone could conduct a vote count. They discovered in 2008 that an entire batch of mail-in ballots was missing from the Diebold results. The batch had been deleted by a known software issue. The vendor had done little to communicate about the defect, offering only a workaround instead of fixing the faulty machines.
Center for Voting Technology Research
The University of Connecticut built a visual Audit Station for computer-assisted post-election audits. They have piloted it in four municipalities. The researchers describe their system as follows:
The Audit Station speeds up the audit process, increases audit accuracy, and most importantly, empowers the human auditors to have complete control over the audit down to the interpretation of each voted “bubble.” In essence, the Audit Station does not take the place of a hand count, but augments it by presenting scanned ballot images with useful data for the auditors to consider or to contrast with the official paper ballots. The system is also auditable; upon the completion of the audit it exports the recorded ballot interpretations and the overall results that allow direct comparison with physical ballots and independent validation. The system is implemented using inexpensive commercial off-the-self components, and is equipped with a projector that enables the auditors (and the public) to easily observe the audit process and to control and override it as necessary.
Wisconsin Grassroots Network
Concerned citizens in Wisconsin have requested ballot images and built open-source software to project ballot images in in a slideshow for public verification of elections.
Voting technology vendor Clear Ballot enables election administrators to assess voter intent through a visual interface that displays ballot images. Their software and hardware can be used for casting and counting votes, or conducting post-election audits.
Colorado election watchdog Harvie Branscomb has filed numerous open records requests to access ballot images in his state. Legal, procedural, and financial hurdles have been thrown in his way, but he has managed to procure ballot images from several counties. He has developed an independent program for evaluating the scanned images, though it is not based entirely on open-source code.