Verified Voting Foundation
The Verified Voting Foundation is an non-governmental, nonpartisan organization founded in 2003 by David L. Dill, a computer scientist from Stanford University, designed to preserve the democratic process with modern day voting advancements. Dill’s educational nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization has grown quickly since its founding and seeks to represent concerned citizens who are hesitant about electronic paperless voting.The Verified Voting Foundation volunteers act as lobbyists, educators, and leaders who promote a secure voting environment by the means of paper voting with a tangible receipt for each vote. They do this by influencing election officials and civilians at every level of government to closely monitor elections in the United States. As well, the Verified Voting Foundation is in charge of a database that contains "voting system information" and "best practices"; this information about the electoral process and voting equipment is available to the public online. The role of the Verified Voting Foundation has expanded as various ballot mechanisms have emerged in the United States. The 2000 and 2016 Presidential elections have contributed to this foundation's role because citizens and officials were questioning voter security and ballot counts after both elections.
How it works
David L. Dill's research involves "circuit verification and synthesis and in verification methods for hard real-time systems". Part of this work has required him to testify on "electronic voting before the U.S. Senate and the Commission on Federal Election Reform". These interests ultimately led him to establishing the Verified Voting Foundation in 2003.
The Verified Voting Foundation has three main avenues they reach their audience. The first being a partnership with the Election Protection Coalition; they act as a resource to help voters with registering to vote, finding their polling place, absentee voting, and informing voters about election tools used at their polling site. This is done through hotline services, digital aids, and on the field volunteer work. The Verified Voting Foundation also provides the public with information and resources about the electoral process and practices across the country. In 2012, along with the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic and Common Cause, the Verified Voting Foundation conducted an extensive survey of "states' voting equipment and ranked the states according to their preparedness". This research specifically looked at each state's voting technology and how this correlated to the foundation's standards for overall ability to preserve the democratic process. Their combined research efforts resulted in an online "interactive" visual tool, The Verifier, where this information is accessible to voters. The Verifier is the Verified Voting Foundation's information database that provides details on "polling place equipment, accessible equipment, early voting equipment, and absentee ballot tabulation" nationwide and for each state.
Because there is no cohesive regulation over the electoral process in the United States, voting protocols for state and federal elections are controlled by individual states. Through lobbying and other efforts mentioned above, the Verified Voting Foundation advocates for the government to take a larger role in electoral regulation to mandate standardized voting tactics–like paper ballots–for every state. Volunteers are currently in the process of launching the organization's nationwide campaign to push for the use of paper ballots and regular voting audits on voting system hardware and software throughout the country.
The Verified Voting Foundation advocates for the use of paper ballots in order to have a traceable receipt of each voter's ballot. Paper ballots were first used in the United States to elect a pastor for the Salem Church in 1629; this voting method remained popular until the late nineteenth century. During this time period, paper ballots' two main concerns regarded voter privacy and ballot stuffing. After the 1880s, new voting methods began to emerge across the nation including manual counting systems and electronic voting services. This led to polling sites across the country to move away from the more traditional use of paper ballots and partake in an array of different voting methods. The mechanical lever was one of the first ones introduced and helped combat the concern of “ballot interpretation” but did not provide a traceable voting record for each citizen. As of 2010, states no longer practice the mechanical lever voting method. The punched card voting method was introduced in the 1960s and has voters punch holes for the candidates they support. The cards are then either placed in a ballot box or put through a vote counting machine. The main dilemma that arose for this method is that additional paper markings on the sheets during this process made it difficult to obtain an accurate vote count; this method is no longer used in the electoral process. Other notable voting methods used by states include optical scan ballot systems, DRE voting machines, hand counted paper ballots,electronic voting. Ultimately, because there is not a uniform mechanism to count and provide a receipt for each vote across the United States, the Verified Voting Foundation attempts to start dialogue and provide tools to inform the public about the voting process; their efforts are in hopes of eliminating voting ambiguity from different methods and make the electoral process as cohesive and secure to their standards as possible by preventing vote miscounts and "vote tampering".
Previously, manipulating a state or federal election meant ballot stuffing or intentionally miscounting votes. For instance, Huey Long was caught meddling with paper votes in 1932; as well, votes in the 1948 Senate election appeared to be miscounted as Johnson suspiciously “overcame a 20,000 vote deficit”. Today, election officials are preparing for digital hacking as well with electronic voting.
Cryptography is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative secure voting method. This mechanism eliminates the “countable ballot” and instead relies strictly on the digital code to transfer each vote. Each vote is privately stored "cryptographically" in the blockchain and can be traced backed to the individual voter by their ballot decision and has the potential to reinvent the electoral process by increasing voter accessibility. On the contrary, critics, like Barbara Simmons who is a computer scientist and chairwoman of the Verified Voting Foundation, claim this method is not reliable because of potential hacking or tampering to votes before they enter the blockchain. After the 2016 presidential election, voters and officials became more aware of this possibility as of accusations towards Russia for election hacking started to arise. Part of the Verified Voting Foundation's work is motivated to remove this voting option in order to prevent this potential vulnerability for electronic voting and require a paper receipt for each voter as a physical source of accountability to prevent skewed election results.
Voting on the political agenda
Historically, addressing issues with voting systems has not been at the forefront of political agendas. Election officials want citizens showing up to the polls confident about where their vote is going and how it is being interpreted. The Verified Voting Foundation essentially acts a non-governmental advocacy group that attempts address what they see as a voter security issue by pressuring government officials to prioritize election reform in favor of their belief of "best practices". The 2000 United States presidential election recount in Florida was a trivial event that forced officials to improve vote accuracy and "raised concerns about how Americans vote". The punch card voting method used in Florida did not provide the accurate vote count for the state; which ultimately played a crucial role in who as elected as president. This event sparked George W Bush to sign the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) a year later. HAVA helped fund states to improve their voting systems and practices by requiring states to meet new standards, accessibility requirements, and protocols (outlined in the legislation) in their electoral process. States like Florida, Georgia, and Maryland have used HAVA to be proactive in reforming their ballot tactics in that suited their state's practices. For instance, activist groups in Maryland, associated with the Verified Voting Foundation, continue to advocate for a "voter-verifiable receipt or switch to paper ballot" with its current online voting tactics. Other states like Idaho, California, Arizona, Illinois and Pennsylvania have been slower to react and change their voting habits. The implementation of HAVA created new debates for the democratic process like: “voter identification, provisional balloting, absentee voting, and paper ballots”. The Verified Foundation's volunteer and research work attempts build off the work from HAVA to encourage their perspective on what constitutes necessary voting changes for states to ensure vote accuracy.
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