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Looking to the Future: A Renewed Call for Standards and Transparency for Access and Resiliency

We’ve pushed for standards in Remote Accessible Ballot Marking and Return through the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS): In January, we highlighted the urgency for these standards. We also seek to learn from election officials who pulled off a successful election despite all odds — and we highlight the need here, in Looking to the Future: A Renewed Call for Standards and Transparency for Access and Resiliency

This year’s advocacy was built on our case from last year to create comprehensive Standardization of Remote Ballot Marking & Return Through a Rigorous National Study & Examination.

Due to the widespread effects of the coronavirus pandemic, many voters were forced to depend on absentee ballots to safely participate in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In the weeks and months leading up to Election Day, there were serious doubts about whether our nation’s electoral system was prepared to handle the rapid expansion of mail-in ballots under tremendous public pressure and with limited resources. 

In the end, Americans accustomed to having a definitive winner by the end of Election Day waited nearly a week for results, further weakening the public’s trust in our electoral system. 

We face a reckoning of the way our voting system currently works, with clear gaps in  resiliency and access. The United States has historically led the world in adopting and adapting to new technology. However, when it comes to elections and voting, we are behind, and comfortable with the status quo.

We trust computers powered by the internet to safely execute nearly every step of the electoral process, from registering voters to designing ballots to the printing and distributing mail-in-ballots. We even trust computers with our health, safety, and livelihood – to safely land airplanes and move money effortlessly across the globe in a matter of seconds.  Why we don’t take advantage of advanced technology to build resilience and expand security and accessibility in our elections? While mail-in-ballots are a practical option for some absentee voters, they are entirely unsuitable for others.   

Americans serving overseas and voters with disabilities need a different solution – one that does not depend on international post (which can be disrupted), electronic ballot return via email (which compromises security and anonymity), and systems that are inaccessible to voters with vision and mobility impairments. 

With advancements in smartphone technology, cryptography, biometrics, blockchain, and identity proofing mechanisms, secure Remote Ballot Marking and Return Systems have been successfully piloted in elections in the U.S. and abroad. To facilitate the continued development of these critical systems, a set of functional and security standards to certify Remote Ballot Marking and Return Systems must be created. We advocate for a thorough review and report of the current state of Remote Ballot Marking and Return Systems, companies in the sector, best practices on security, and a system of standards that can be adopted industry-wide.  

Furthermore, to ensure that progress and innovation in the elections industry meet the highly specific needs of our country’s electoral system, we advocate for the publication of a report on the challenges and outcomes of last year’s presidential election. The goal of this report should be to enable private vendors to respond to new findings, ensuring that the market for election solutions appropriately reflects the needs of our nation’s election officials. 

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