Online Ballot Delivery FAQ
Q: What is online ballot delivery?
A: Online ballot delivery (OBD) enables voters to receive their ballots electronically through any or all of several devices that the jurisdiction chooses – computer, tablet or smartphone.
Q: How does the voter fill out and return the ballot to be counted?
A: Based on the options chosen by the jurisdiction, the voter can either print and fill the ballot out by hand or mark their ballot onscreen using their personal device and then print it. Then there are any number of options for jurisdictions to designate for the voter to return the paper ballot, including the Postal Service or by dropping it off in-person to a drop site or vote center.
Q: Can the voter return or cast the ballot electronically via the internet?
A: Currently, voters cannot return their ballot electronically unless they qualify under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). Online voting is not permitted for general use in the United States. However, for other countries electronic return to the jurisdiction for tabulation and/or online voting are available.
Q: Where has OBD been used?
A: OBD is already used in various forms by all 50 states, primarily for citizens who are in the military and are living abroad. The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) made OBD possible for citizens who vote under the authorities of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
Q: What about voters who don’t have access to a computer or other digital device?
A: OBD is an additional channel that a jurisdiction can deploy to make it easier for voters to participate, particularly during this pandemic when physical distancing is critical. To support voters who don’t have access to the internet or a digital device, jurisdictions should continue to offer traditional channels like vote-by-mail and in-person voting.
Q: So a voter can use any digital device, not just their own?
A: Yes, to make selections and print their paper ballot. This allows voters to use computers at a Public Library, for example, ensuring that voters without their own devices can still use Online Ballot Delivery.
Q: How do voters authenticate themselves?
A: Voters receive logon credentials from their election authority. In the United States that is usually the County election office.
Q: What prevents a voter from voting more than once?
A: The same safeguards that prevent a voter from casting more than one ballot in both in-person and mail-in voting exist for Online Ballot Delivery since every voter ends their process with a paper ballot. The same measures that an election authority uses to account for ballots from each voter are used when Online Ballot Delivery is employed.
Q: Is there a paper record?
A: Yes. With Smartmatic’s OBD voters must print a ballot, either filled out onscreen or as a blank ballot to be filled out by hand by the voter. The paper ballot is then returned either through the mail or via drop-off to the jurisdiction for counting. The jurisdiction then secures the ballots for auditing purposes.
Q: So with OBD there is always a paper record?
A: Yes, with OBD there’s a voter-marked paper ballot record that is scanned by official tabulation systems and used in audits.
Q: How online ballot delivery is secure?
A: OBD is secure because it uses two-part credentialing to validate the voter’s identity. (The voter inputs two bits of information to logon. One is typically a code sent from the election office in advance via email or USPS. The other is a form of unique identifying information that the voter inputs during log-on.)
With OBD both delivering the electronic ballot to the voter and the return of the voter’s paper ballot can be secured. If an attacker attempts to prevent delivery of the electronic ballot to voters, it will likely result in calls to the election authorities and subsequent investigation. Mitigation measures, such as re-delivery of the ballots would follow. Similarly, voters can be assured that their returned ballot is received at the election office by personally dropping it into a ballot drop box, at a polling place, or sending via USPS. This “contactless” method of voting can minimize exposure to the coronavirus for voters and poll workers.
Q: Has your OBD system been independently tested?
A: Our OBD system is part of our remote voting platform that we’ve used around the world. That system has been independently tested and has been used securely for more than 10 years. Smartmatic also strongly advocates that election officials utilize third-party testers for the system before it is implemented in their jurisdiction.
Q: Is it certified?
A: The need for certification is determined by each state or jurisdiction and we will work with them to ensure our system meets established requirements.
Q: Is the OBD process easy to manage?
A: Yes. Our OBD is easy to manage because of its built-in administration features. These features are specifically designed to eliminate additional steps and facilitate shorter timelines than traditional vote by mail methods. As an example, it enables jurisdictions to offer same day voter registration, because as soon as a voter is validated, a ballot can be sent out. With traditional vote by mail, same day voter registration is not possible (it would only be available for voters who are able to go to a polling place).
Q: Will it be easy for Smartmatic’s OBD system to interface with a jurisdiction’s existing voter registration system?
A: It is similar to integrating with other election infrastructure like e-Poll books. The ease of integration to a voter registration system depends on factors such as vendor, processes and election rules. Smartmatic is experienced at working with voter registration systems and vendors to make it as seamless as possible for the jurisdiction.
Q: Can people with disabilities vote like everyone else?
A: OBD is a significant improvement for voters with disabilities. For people with disabilities, who account for 1 in 6 voters, voting at polling centers is often challenging. OBD can help minimize many of the issues with voting in the polling place, including non-functional voting machines and difficult site access. With OBD, voters with disabilities can use their own personal assistive technology to mark their choices if their election authority allows the OBD ballot to be marked on-screen.
Q: Will you disclose your source code?
A: We fully disclose the system source code to the jurisdiction’s chosen auditors to offer a comprehensive level of transparency, which exceeds that of traditional paper-based elections. The election officials can employ any auditors they choose to review this code. We do not make the source code publicly available in order to minimize the risks that it will fall into the wrong hands. Additionally, OBD systems do not tabulate the ballots; they provide the ability to mark and print the ballot at home – and that paper ballot is fully verifiable by the voter.
Q: If a jurisdiction’s voter registration system isn’t secure, will that render your OBD system vulnerable where they interface?
A: Voter registration systems are the responsibility of election jurisdictions. As such, they are responsible for ensuring that the voter registration data exported from these systems is up to date, has been kept private according to State regulations, and that it has not been tampered with. This is important not only for any OBD system, but also for the entire election process in general; as the same data used for an OBD system, is also the same as that for in-person voting or traditional Vote By Mail.
Beyond that, Smartmatic’s OBD system has been designed to securely handle the data provided by Counties and States, and in accordance with State regulations.
Q: But when they do connect to exchange data, can’t an infected registration system corrupt your OBD system?
A: Since OBD is presenting the voter with a paper ballot which they print, any attacks on the ballot would likely be noticed by the voter and reported to the election authority. Commonly theorized attacks such as preventing the ballot from reaching the voter, manipulating the ballot content to remove a contest, or dropping a candidate from a contest would not escape notice by the voting public and would be reported, investigated and corrected. The voter could also be provided a new ballot.
Q: Who is considering implementing OBD?
A: The global spread of the coronavirus has motivated electoral bodies around the country (and around the world) to seriously look at remote voting solutions including Online Ballot Delivery as viable alternatives to in-person voting and traditional Vote by Mail.
Q: What assurances can you give voters and elections officials that your system will work as advertised in November?
A: As with the adoption of any technology, testing and retesting is critical and provides assurance that the system will work properly. Smartmatic has deep experience and expertise at managing large scale elections. Jurisdictions that want to adopt Smartmatic’s OBD for November must commit by July to ensure ample time for adaptation, ballot design and comprehensive testing.
Q: Instituting a new system will require significant voter education efforts. What type of support can Smartmatic provide in this area?
A: Most jurisdictions have comprehensive systems for communicating with voters. Additionally, Smartmatic has assisted with campaigns to educate voters in several countries. Moving to OBD should be somewhat familiar to most voters as it’s not so different from other day-to-day tasks that have converted to digital like banking, shopping and ordering food online.
Q: Election officials are wary to institute a new voting process during a presidential election year. While it’s recognized that this is an extraordinary time, what kind of assurances can Smartmatic provide to make this work?
A: Smartmatic’s OBD platform is based on Smartmatic’s innovative and secure remote voting technology that Smartmatic has used for 10 years. Nevertheless, we urge jurisdictions that want to adopt OBD to commit by July to provide ample time for adaptation and comprehensive testing.
Q: How much does OBD cost and can the new funding provided by Congress to deal with COVID-19 related to election issues be used to pay for it?
A: Costs will vary by jurisdiction as solutions are tailored to specific needs, but we expect it to be significantly less than traditional vote by mail. Funds from the COVID-19 relief bill recently passed by Congress can be used for these systems and services according to the parameters written into the new law.