New Report Suggests Voters Don’t Carefully Review BMD Ballots

[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!

4 Comments on "New Report Suggests Voters Don’t Carefully Review BMD Ballots"

  1. thank you this is great

  2. Every registered voter here in vote-by-mail WA state can now vote an online BMD ballot at library or home on any internet-connected computer with a printer.
    We don’t have to vote the blank ballot mailed-out to us.
    The new “VoteWA” election system, from BPro and Democracy Live, lets me click or tap my selections on the progression of screens, click “Print” and retrieve my voted paper ballot from the printer.
    So far, isn’t that essentially the same as with a free-standing BMD used for in-person voting elsewhere?
    The in-person BMD voter feeds their paper ballot into a precinct scanner, or deposits it into the ballot box for later central scanning.
    The online BMD voter returns their paper ballot by mail or dropbox.
    That’s how I voted in Nov’s General Election, and my Voting History displays that my ballot was accepted.

    The difference from an in-person BMD is that the online BMD prints your marked ballot plus 3 sheets: ballot return instructions, your Voter Declaration for signing and dating, and an “Optional cover sheet” you may insert between your signed Declaration sheet and your voted ballot sheets.

    Your online BMD printed ballot lays out your precinct ballot style differently from the standard VBM ballot sent to your address.
    A variety of ballot formats is not new or unusual. Valid ballots for the same precinct may locate the response areas in different places. Ballots may be in just about any color, size, paging or font, and in an array of languages. Plus paperless UOCAVA email ballots returned in all sorts of digital image formats.
    Ballotline vote validity is all about determining voter intent.

    Votes by online BMD or other non-standard ballots must be duplicated onto paper ballots that the county central scanner can read—same process used for torn and coffee-stained and glitter-penned ballots. WA creates a machine-readable paper record for every accepted ballot, regardless of format.

    The additional duplication costs may be more than recouped by administrative savings & benefits provided by the BMD ballot vs the hand-marked VBM ballot:

    1. Although all online BMD ballots require duplicating, it’s simple, fast and routine.
    With response areas fully blacked-in, there’s none of the ambiguity and adjudication of voter intent so common & time-consuming with messy hand-marked ballots—especially in WA, where voters may freely write comments or even sign their names on the ballot itself.
    2. No overvotes. The online BMD won’t accept an attempted overvote. When I click to add on a second choice, the screen simply switches my vote to my new click.
    3. Administrative-intensive write-ins are accommodated, but are likely reduced.
    4. It’s now rarely necessary to divert resources to issuing replacement ballots for those lost or messed up, or the voter is away from home and their standard VBM ballot.

    Germaine to this article:
    It didn’t occur to me to check my printed BMD ballot against a sample ballot to verify correct and complete ballot lines in proper order.
    There’s no notice or alert to review your printout ballot to verify your choices are correctly marked.
    There’s one VoteWA notice to the online BMD voter at the end of the ballot return instructions that print with your voted ballot:
    “Please note that ballots printed using the online system may be less secret.”

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