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Wyden-Merkley bill would require paper ballots, audits

WASHINGTON - Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.,introduced legislation Tuesday to require state and local governments to take basic steps to secure elections from hackers and ensure every American’s vote counts.

The Protecting American Votes and Elections Act of 2018 requires paper ballots and statistically rigorous “risk-limiting” audits for all federal elections – the two steps cited by election experts as necessary to give voters confidence that election results have not been changed by foreign governments or other hackers, according to a news release from the lawmakers, which continues below:

Sen. Wyden: “The Russian government’s attack on our democracy in 2016 was the last straw – Congress must act immediately to protect our democracy from cyberattacks. Any failure to secure our elections amounts to disenfranchising American voters. For Americans to have confidence that their votes count, and that election results are free and fair, there absolutely have to be paper ballots and mandatory audits for each and every federal election.

“Leaving the fate of America’s democracy up to hackable election machines is like leaving your front door open, unlocked and putting up a sign that says ‘out of town.’ It’s not a question of if bad guys get in, it’s just a question of when.”

Sen. Gillibrand: “One of the most painful lessons of the 2016 election is that our country was dangerously unprepared to block a foreign attack on our voting systems. We cannot let this happen again. Congress has a responsibility to protect our voting systems from being attacked, and this important legislation would help achieve that goal. I urge all of my colleagues to keep doing everything in our power to make sure our elections are safe from foreign attacks.”

Sen. Markey:  “The 2016 presidential election shines a spotlight on the need for strong election infrastructure. We must be able to confidently verify election results in the event of cyberattack by a foreign adversary for the sake of our national security. I am proud to join Senator Wyden’s efforts to secure our federal elections by requiring the use of paper ballots and by conducting risk-limiting audits. These commonsense practices will help ensure that our country is able to withstand any threats to our election integrity and democracy.”

Sen. Merkley: ““Why would we give foreign adversaries the opportunity to hack into our voting systems when we have better, more secure alternatives? This bill is a critical step toward protecting one of our nation’s most precious assets: the integrity of our democracy.”

Sen. Murray: “With known vulnerabilities and a clear history of foreign interference, it is critical we take meaningful steps to protect the integrity of our elections and ensure the public’s faith in our voting system. I urge my colleagues in Congress to quickly adopt this legislation so we can defend against any attempt to disrupt the 2020 elections.”

Sen. Warren: “We know that Russia hacked into American voter systems to influence our election – and we know they’ll try to do it again. Our bill will require the use of paper ballots and post-election audits to protect against cyberattacks and help verify results if there’s a breach. Our national security experts have warned us that the country’s election infrastructure is vulnerable – this bill will take important steps to help secure it.” 

Top administration officials agree that auditable elections are a national security issue. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Sen. Wyden in March that “if there's no way to audit the election, that is absolutely a national security concern.”

This bill requires that all election bodies audit every federal election, regardless of how close it is, by employing statistically rigorous “risk-limiting audits,” which deliver nearly the same level of confidence in the election results as a full manual recount, at a fraction of the cost.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., will introduce a House companion to this legislation.

Currently, 22 states do not require any post-election audits. Many other states merely require recounts in a few precincts.

Read the full bill here.

Support for the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act

Matt Blaze, Professor of Computer Information Science, University of Pennsylvania: 

“Optical scan paper ballots coupled with risk limited audits represent the state of the art in voting system security, an approach already in successful use in several states. As a computer scientist who has studied election security for two decades, the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act represents an important step toward deploying reliable, secure voting technology nationwide.”

Alex Halderman,  Professor of Computer Science & Engineering and Director, Center for Computer Security & Society, University of Michigan:

“Paper ballots and risk-limiting audits are the only practical way to guarantee that election results can't be changed in a cyberattack.  Senator Wyden's bill will uphold voter confidence by ensuring that these low-cost, common-sense measures are in place for all federal elections.”

Philip B. Stark, Associate Dean, Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Professor of Statistics, University of California, Berkeley:

“I strongly endorse the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act’s key election integrity requirements: paper ballots, rigorous ballot accounting, the creation of ballot manifests, and risk-limiting audits. Adopting these sensible standards and practices would greatly reduce the risk that errors or malicious hacking--even by well-resourced nation states--would lead to incorrect election outcomes. Using hand-marked paper ballots (with suitable accommodations to allow voters with disabilities to mark and verify their ballots independently), rigorously protecting the chain of custody of those ballots, and conducting risk-limiting audits using those ballots together provide inexpensive insurance against innocent errors, system flaws, bugs, procedural lapses, and even against advanced cyber-attacks on our democracy from within our outside our borders.”

Ron Rivest, Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “The requirements for paper ballots and for risk-limiting audits will provide for definite improvements in security for many states."

*Academic titles are for identification only.

Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Staff Technologist Jacob Hoffman-Andrews: "EFF supports the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act of 2018. Mandating paper ballots and risk-limiting audits will advance the security of elections."

Barry D. Nussbaum, President, American Statistical Association:

“On behalf of the American Statistical Association (ASA), I write in enthusiastic support of the requirement of risk-limiting audits in your bill, the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act of 2018.

“In a 2010 statement, the ASA Board of Directors recommended that ‘risk-limiting audits be routinely conducted and reported in all federal, most state-wide, and at least a sampling of other governmental election contests.’ We are pleased to see your legislation requiring such post-election audits, which will make U.S. elections more trustworthy. Further, because well-designed risk-limiting audits often can confirm a correct electoral outcome after examining only a small fraction of the ballots cast, they use election officials’ time and taxpayers’ money efficiently. As an additional benefit, routinely-conducted risk-limiting audits provide a powerful tool for continuous quality improvement because they have the potential to identify the kinds of machines and ballot designs that lead to the fewest errors."


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