NIST Report on Audit Trails Released

By David Bruggeman
September 11, 2006

Update – September 12

While audit trails are important, proper planning works wonders for successful voting. Today (9/12) is a primary election day in my local jurisdiction – Montgomery County, Maryland. Arriving shortly after the polls opened this morning, I found that the smart cards necessary to use our DRE machines were not there. In fact, after calling the County Board of Elections, I found that they had not arrived at any polling place in the county. Poll workers had no instructions for what to do, and only let voters use provisional ballots after hearing from the Board. I’ll go back to vote this evening, but how many people would be so inclined in similar situations?

Why election officials couldn’t have given this guidance before Election Day escapes me. Technologies fail, whether or not computers are involved. Planning for problems can help mitigate them when they happen. Check with your local election board and see what its plan is for trouble with the equipment, in particular what poll workers are empowered to do in such a situation.

Original Post – September 11

One of the critical points in the USACM statement on electronic voting is the need for an audit trail, a mechanism (usually, but not always, paper) independent of the voting technology that allows the voter to verify their vote. A common complaint with many voting technologies is the absence of an audit trail or difficulties in accessing or producing that audit trail.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is taking over the responsibility for approving the laboratories that will certify voting technologies. In a report written for NIST, (PDF) Roy Saltman, author of “The History and Politics of Voting Technology: In Quest of Integrity and Public Confidence,” argues for the importance of auditing direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines – a principle USACM finds critical to secure and reliable elections. He discusses the use of paper trails, as well as several different independent auditing technologies.

Saltman includes a great deal of voting technology history with his recommendations for effective auditing of DREs. He also details the procedures of those states using DREs without paper trails, as well as several instances of security flaws in the current generation of voting technology.

Saltman considers paper trails a stop-gap measure in assuring the verifiability of elections. He believes a more reliable system would involve independent verification devices (IVDs) that would be used by an independent group. This would involve reconciling overvotes and undervotes, along with a partial recount. This goes further than most recommendations regarding audit trails, which focus primarily on the need for the voter to be able to verify their votes.

The report is worth reviewing, and can be found at: