Election Security Goals

Jennifer Cohn
13 min readMay 24, 2019

By Jennifer Cohn
May 24, 2019, most recent update 2/5/20

Note: This piece was updated on August 2, 2019 to indicate that the PAVE Act is now called the SAFE Act and that the SAFE Act has passed the House.

According to experts, the only way to know if an electronic vote total has been hacked is for voters to have separately recorded their intended selections on paper and for jurisdictions to then use the paper in a manual audit or recount, the results of which can be compared to the electronic total.

But even manual audits or recounts can be “hacked” if the selections on the paper have been marked by a machine, rather than the voter’s own hand. And no matter how that paper is marked, manual audits and recounts can be gamed if the chain of custody between election night and the audit or recount has been compromised.

With these basic principles in mind, here are ten realistic election security goals for 2020.

1. Hand marked paper ballots as a primary voting system.

  • Experts recommend that most voters use hand marked paper ballots (counted on scanners or by hand), as opposed to machine-marked printouts from hackable ballot marking devices (BMDs). BMDs are, in effect, $3,000-$5,000 electronic pencils that look like traditional voting machines. The only purpose of a BMD is to mark the paper for the voter; the counting is conducted by a separate or integrated scanner.
  • BMDs were initially designed for voters with disabilities, such as visual impairments, that prevent them from using hand marked paper ballots. But in the past few years, profit-motivated vendors have marketed BMDs for use by all voters. And because there is no universal definition of “paper ballot,” they have misleadingly characterized the machine-marked printouts generated by BMDs as “paper ballots,” thus implying that they can reliably detect and defend against hacking. Jurisdictions throughout the U.S. are flocking to these universal-use BMDs.
  • But this recent academic report by three esteemed cybersecurity election experts explains the myriad reasons why machine-marked paper ballots from BMDs cannot reliably detect and defend against hacking…



Jennifer Cohn

Attorney and Election Integrity Advocate #ProtectOurVotes #PaperBallotsNow @jennycohn1