Opinion: Why we should return to paper ballots         

While paper ballots are flawed, they remain the more secure alternative to electronic voting.  Photo by Element5 Digital /  Pexels

While paper ballots are flawed, they remain the more secure alternative to electronic voting. Photo by Element5 Digital / Pexels

Election officials have decided to increase election security in the wake of the 2016 election. One of the ways to do so is to return to paper ballots. Returning to paper is a good idea as paper is unhackable, unlike voting machines. Also, it is easier to audit paper ballots than voting machines. And while there is no evidence that voting machines have been hacked, most states use antiquated software which contains known vulnerabilities enabling the possibility of such hacking to be possible. Mueller’s report found that most of the hacking was social engineering, standard theft of information and a campaign to target officials and firms involved in the proctoring of the election. In Illinois, Russian intelligence was able to obtain voter rolls.  

Now imagine if such attacks were attempting to invalidate votes rather than merely targeting disinformation for voters. Also, if stolen, the files of the software of voting companies would give Russian intelligence an advantage in reverse engineering the software and thus allow them to obtain the ability to alter election results. Paper avoids this by requiring a physical presence to manipulate, and while Russians did travel to the United States during 2016, it would be impossible to simultaneously stuff enough ballots in enough precincts to alter all but local results. Chain of custody, whereby the votes are accounted for from polling station to county assessor’s office and secretary of state’s office, ensures that ballot stuffing, unlikely as it is, would require bipartisan support to break the provenance of the ballots. Furthermore, post-election audits are more reliable with paper ballots.  

Electronic votes are also harder to verify than paper ballods. This is why electronic absentee ballots are discouraged. Electronic absentee voting — or the return of voted absentee ballots electronically via email, fax, or web portal — is risky because there is no way for absentee voters to know whether the votes they cast are being accurately recorded. While 29 states only allow electronic submission for UOCAVA voters, three states allow any absentee voters to return completed ballots electronically” (American progress report).  

Furthermore, electronic systems can be hacked from afar, while paper is susceptible only to local interference like ballot stuffing, hanging chads and vote buying. Vote buying is prohibited and is why taking selfies is prohibited in ballot boxes. To those who argue that simply better encryption or software is needed, I remind you of the purloined letter where Poe discusses how brute force will eventually succeed: “If the reward is great [as an election would be] the qualities in question have never been known to fail.” 

Ronald Rivest, one of the minds behind RSA encryption protocol, stated “good practices for online voting is like good practices for drunk driving.”

Electronic voting would also destroy the anonymity of the ballot, as the signature would reveal who voted and the ledger would contain the list of every person and their vote. A nation-state’s intelligence agency would be such a group of coordinated computers, trying to break the encryption, could control an election if they coordinate their manipulation.

However, while anonymous electronic voting is possible, it would enable voter fraud as there would be no way to confirm that a particular voter was not merely a Russian intelligence agent short of determining the IP address, which amounts to reducing the anonymity of the voter. This lack of confidence in the identity of online voting is why Rivest prefers paper ballots.  

For these reasons, while paper ballots are flawed, they remain the more secure alternative to electronic voting.


Jacob Ningen is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at jacob.ningen@uconn.edu