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Principles of VoiceVote

Principles of VoiceVote

The development of democracy in America is an unfinished and ongoing process. Democracy is about much more than elections and elections are about much more than voting. However, it is reasonable to chart the growth of our democracy by the expansion (and sometimes contraction) of voting rights and the ability of the election system to express the intent of the electorate.

Voter expectations regarding election integrity are not static. Rather, they are shaped by the same forces, including the explosion of information technologies, that have given rise to demands for greater transparency in all types of government operations. Voters today expect every citizen to enjoy equal access to an election process that is free from error and corruption. By that standard, the gap between voter expectations for American democracy and the reality of our electoral system has taken a turn for the worse in recent years.

The elections of 2000, 2004 and 2006, and especially Bush v. Gore, highlighted this crisis of confidence. The actions of the courts and the Congress have done little, if anything, to alleviate the growing distrust of many Americans with the ability of the electoral system to reflect their will, to represent their interests and to accurately and reliably record and count their votes. As reported in a CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project working paper Are Americans Confident Their Ballots Are Counted?

The issue of trust and confidence in the electoral process looms large in the United States in the wake of the disputed 2000 presidential election, especially following the many reports and studies of procedural irregularities, mistakes, and problems associated with the counting and recounting of ballots in Florida and other states.

The Project found in that issues of confidence and trust persist today:

Despite efforts at reform, including passage of the “Help America Vote Act” in 2002, questions persist about the degree of confidence and trust that American citizens and voters have in their electoral process,given that problems again arose in the 2004 presidential election in a number of states, including the pivotal state of Ohio.

In a report titled Challenges Facing the American Electoral System: Research Priorities for the Social Sciences, the National Research Commission on Elections and Voting notes:

It is the view of this Commission that significant reforms in American electoral institutions are very much needed at this juncture in American political history. There is ample evidence that our electoral system does not match – and sometimes frustrates – the promise of American democracy. There is also abundant anecdotal evidence that many Americans have lost confidence in the fairness and neutrality of our electoral processes: one of the more notable features of the weeks immediately following the November election was the proliferation of theories and claims that the presidential election had been stolen.

VoiceVote is designed to address this acute problem by implementing principles that have historically been the goals of democratic elections:

  • Anonymity. The voter alone should decide whether and what to disclose about the choices made on the ballot. The voter should have the right to choose whether to disclose nothing, to disclose their vote or even to make false statements about how they voted.
  • Accuracy. There should be clarity in the presentation and marking of ballots, so that they represent the true intent of the voter, and there should be zero tolerance for errors in the recording and counting of votes.
  • Transparency. Voters should be able to see and to understand all aspects of the system, and the maximum possible amount of information about all votes cast, consistent with the principle on anonymity, should be made public.
  • Confidence. Every election should be subject to quick, reliable and automatic verification, and there should be effective recourse in the event that the integrity of the system is shown to have been compromised.
The key to the VoiceVote system is that it brings the public directly into the process of verification. It creates and gives to each voter a cryptographically certified paper record of their vote, tagged with a random identifier, which the voter may compare to the complete set of votes posted on the Internet. This receipt enables each voter to check that their vote is correctly recorded. If a voter's ballot is missing or altered, it gives the voter a way to prove the error or fraud. Any voter may independently count every vote throughout the country. VoiceVote employs technologies that are already in wide use: public key signatures - an established method of verifying the authorship and integrity of documents - and the Internet.

The VoiceVote system consists of specifications for equipment, software and procedures for the conduct of elections which, taken together, improve the security, accuracy and efficiency of elections. Within this framework, VoiceVote permits election authorities, vendors and implementers wide latitude. The VoiceVote system elevates the role of voters to co-guarantors with the election authorities of the integrity of the system as well as decision makers.

Wherever possible, VoiceVote preserves familiar election procedures. For example, voters go to a local polling place to cast their ballots. While VoiceVote retains time-tested aspects of voting procedure, it recognizes that the technology of voting is changing, and uses proven and practical technologies to enhance the electoral system.

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