[Image via nancyfriedman]
A new study from the University of Michigan is getting lots of coverage because of its findings that voters using ballot marking devices (BMDs) don’t carefully check to see whether their choices were accurately recorded. Politico’s Morning Cybersecurity has more:
Most voters don’t check printouts from ballot-marking devices and the ones who do so rarely catch errors, researchers at the University of Michigan said in a paper published today…
The researchers asked 241 volunteers to vote on BMDs and ensured that one vote on each person’s ballot was misprinted on the paper record. Among volunteers who were not specifically encouraged to look for errors, only 40 percent even looked at their printed ballots before casting them, only 6.6 percent reported an error to a poll worker and only 7.8 percent mentioned finding an error during an exit survey.
Most of the coverage of the report focuses on the prospect of outside interference with BMD machines, but I was struck by some of the numbers on the impact of various efforts to encourage voters to double-check their ballots. Specifically, the study found that signage had little effect, while reminders from pollworkers after a ballot is printed but before scanning can improve the degree to which voters review their choices. Most effective seems to have been the idea of slating, where voters have a list of choices against which to check their ballot. Indeed, this practice was so effective that the study’s authors recommend that voters use “personalized slates” when casting ballots:
Although our study tested randomized slates, rather than personalized slates, the effect size was so large that we tentatively recommend encouraging the use of personalized slates by voters. In our experiments… participants who were directed to vote using a randomized slate (and did not deviate) reported errors at a rate of 73%. If voters prepare their own slates at home (or use a printed slate prepared, for instance, by a political party or other organization), they can use them to check each selection on the BMD printout. We note that, since we did not directly test the use of personalized slates, further research is necessary to ascertain whether large performance gains are actually achieved. Furthermore, even if personalized slates are effective, the gain will be limited to the fraction of voters who can be induced to use them. (p.12)
This study is already generating lots of buzz because of the concerns it raises about the security of BMDs – but these findings about voters’ willingness to double-check their ballots are valuable across the entire voting context. Bottom line: voter education – or, more accurately, voter preparedness – is a crucial factor in the ability of voters to ensure that their votes are counted as cast. That finding is important regardless of what technology is in use in a given jurisdiction on or before Election Day. Be ready and double-check … and stay tuned!