Verified Voting was on the front line on Tuesday, March 3 at the Election Protection National Hotline, and from our vantage point, there were some SUPER clear takeaways from Super Tuesday:
Preventing long lines. Reports in Texas and California, the two largest Super Tuesday states, showed hours-long voting wait times. The waits stemmed from problems that included connecting to voter registration databases, machine equipment failures, and too few voting machines that were overwhelmed by high turnout. Verified Voting continues to urge all jurisdictions to plan for technology failures and have enough resources (including paper ballots, equipment, poll workers) to handle high turnout and ensure that every voter can vote. Election officials can check out the Bipartisan Policy Center’s project “Improving the Voter Experience” for guidance on preventing long lines; line optimization tools are available from the Voting Technology Project and on the Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) website.
Unnecessary scarcity. When precincts use all computerized devices for all voters, polling locations may not have enough machines to allow voters to cast their ballots relatively quickly and easily, resulting in unnecessary scarcity. Voting equipment shortages can disproportionately affect marginalized communities, and were reported in some of the largest counties in Texas, such as Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties. In addition to the increased security risks of BMDs and direct recording electronic machines (DREs), lack of availability is why we recommend that a majority of voters mark paper ballots by hand (supplemented by ballot marking devices for voters who need to use one) and oppose using ballot marking devices for all voters. Jurisdictions can avoid unnecessary scarcity with hand-marked paper ballots because they can more readily scale up in the face of heavy turnout.
Have a disaster recovery plan and make sure all poll workers are trained on executing the plan. Paper ballots are the best disaster recovery plan for voting, and all jurisdictions need a contingency plan for technology failures, unexpected spikes in turnout, or even natural disasters. Emergency paper ballots allow voters to still cast their votes and prevent voters from leaving without voting. Emergency ballots must be securely stored, and immediately counted when systems are restored because they are regular ballots, not provisional ballots. An adequate supply of emergency paper ballots prevents voter disenfranchisement.
Paper copies of voter registration lists are an essential failsafe for electronic poll books at precincts so voters can speedily start their voting experience even if the e-pollbooks fail or malfunction, or network connections are disrupted.
Monitor, Detect, Respond and Recover. Election officials need resources to monitor, detect, respond, and recover in real time from technology issues that arise on Election Day. The Department of Homeland Security monitors ongoing network threats; state election offices also often have tools to assist local jurisdictions, including security/network assessments, staff trainings, and election day command center staffing.
As we saw on Super Tuesday, technology and voting equipment malfunctions – whether malicious or accidental – cause disruptions to the voting process that frustrate both voters and poll workers. Verified Voting is working to help states get best practices in place before November’s election to avoid repeating the problems we’ve seen so far this primary season. It is imperative that our country’s elections are prepared and resilient, that every eligible voter can cast a ballot with few barriers, and that their votes are counted as cast.