Voting by mail is more secure than the President says. How to make it even safer

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, prevalent mail-in voting is vital to retaining voter turnout and stopping the unfold of the virus. Our unprecedented dependence on mail-in voting is precisely why it is crucial to choose a serious look at the protection of the procedure. We can only boost the basic safety of mail-in voting if we recognize in which there are legitimate concerns to begin with.

Some of the most widely circulated considerations encompassing mail-in voting fraud, nonetheless, are not grounded in reality. President Trump has alleged that popular use of voting by mail would permit international nations to ship in ballots and that there is “tremendous possible for voter fraud.” The technical reality is that fraud of the type Trump has claimed is widespread would be simply detected by the ballot-scanning systems and ballot barcodes utilized by the the vast majority of election jurisdictions. Ballot scanners confirm that the ballot is printed on distinctive ballot stock and most ballot envelopes have some variety of special barcode that allows election officers to detect counterfeit ballots.

To be confident, there are valid considerations about the security of casting your ballot by way of mail. A extremely serious danger is that delays involving the U.S. Postal Provider (USPS) will avert voters from obtaining or returning their ballot on time. In Wisconsin, thousands of mail-in ballots asked for by voters in the point out primary were never delivered to them due to postal delays. In New York, a single in 5 mail-in ballots been given by election officials were not counted, lots of for the reason that they arrived previous the deadline.

To mitigate the risks of shipping delays, we want far better strategies for voters to monitor the status of their ballot in the mail. Most states and counties deliver a site that enables voters to seem up when their ballot was mailed and decide whether or not the returned ballot has been recognized by election officials. This is an critical very first action, but what these sites do not deliver is the skill to observe a ballot as soon as it has left the elections facility. New experiences regarding USPS mail slowdowns emphasize the value of enabling voters to keep track of the place of their ballot at just about every action of the course of action.

USPS Smart Mail barcodes, used by the USPS to type and monitor mail, deliver this tracking functionality. Several, but not all, election jurisdictions use these barcodes on ballot envelopes, letting both equally USPS and voters to seem up the position of their ballot. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order in June requiring county elections officials to use Smart Mail barcodes on all ballot envelopes in the point out.

This mail monitoring functionality will increase accountability of the USPS and boosts community self-assurance in voting by mail. A critical phase in the direction of a safer voting by mail method is for far more jurisdictions to use intelligent barcodes on their mail-in ballots. Voters can then use ballot tracking internet sites and apps, which depend on these barcodes, to check the standing of their ballot if their condition has adopted a ballot tracking system. Ballot Scout, run by the non-gain Democracy Operates, and BallotTrax, designed out of the private sector, are two such web sites made use of by states wherever a voter can enter standard determining information and facts, these kinds of as identify and date of delivery, and see their ballot’s delivery position. Expanding the amount of jurisdictions that use these units will assist assuage voter concerns about ballots currently being misplaced in the mail or under no circumstances arriving.

The tradeoff of enabling voters to conveniently watch their ballot position is that other individuals can seem up their voter file, much too. The info requested by these devices to verify a voter’s identification is usually effortlessly discoverable,

and at times even a make any difference of general public history in states that make voter documents community. For illustration, a lot of media shops claimed the specific day Donald and Melania Trump’s ballots were being mailed to his residence in Florida, a truth which they figured out by on the lookout up the Trumps’ voter records on the Palm Beach front County elections internet site. Offered the limited timeframe involving now and the November elections, the requirement of exact ballot tracking outweighs worries more than simplicity of obtain to voter data, but these devices do increase crucial privateness problems for thing to consider in long run elections.

USPS delays are not the only worry. On-line voter registration, even though not exceptional to mail-in voting, is a crucial section of the remote voting process. It makes registration substantially easier, but condition registration internet websites can be compromised in circumstances in which internet protection protocols are not up to day. This could permit a destructive actor to tamper with a voter’s registration, including blocking it completely, or to steal a voter’s personal information and facts. Quite a few protection holes can be fastened in time for November if states have the technological know-how to do so. States need to also consider sending notices of any alterations in voter registration to voters, as Florida by now does, so discrepancies can be caught.

Like all voting methods, voting by mail is vulnerable to little-scale fraud, but there is no evidence, technological or if not, that common fraud is doable. As we wrote in a paper in May possibly, fraud involving mail-in ballots necessitates the development of a paper path, building it pretty tough to scale. The significantly greater risk to mail-in ballot security is that delays in postal provider will suppress the vote depend and lessen community perception of the protection of the method. Smart barcodes and ballot tracking techniques can assistance with this. States need to make use of equally of these safeguards as considerably as is feasible, this November and beyond.

Jenny Blessing is a graduate pupil at MIT and a investigation assistant at MIT CSAIL&#8217s Net Policy Investigate Initiative.  McCoy Patiño, Tran Nguyen, and Julian Gomez are modern graduates of MIT in laptop science and are now software package engineers in the tech business.

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