How Technology Can Enhance the Paper Ballot and Secure Our Elections

How Technology Can Enhance the Paper Ballot and Secure Our Elections

Elections are a sacrosanct part of the United States and its national identity, the right to vote core to its democratic principles, fought over and defended for more than 240 years.  The news that a foreign nation meddled in the 2016 Presidential election has led to a comprehensive assessment of how government secures elections at the municipal, state, and Federal level.

Among the gaps that need to be addressed to prevent future attacks are our voting machines and the ballots themselves.  Last year Virginia ended the use of all touch-screen voting technology, known as direct recording electronic voting machines in its elections.[1]  Pennsylvania just moved to require all voting systems to keep a record of paper votes cast.[2]

The calls to switch back to paper ballots has intensified as the US-American public learns more about nation state efforts to manipulate elections in the U.S. and Europe.[3]

To that end, NXP provides to its customers various technologies aimed to prevent the manipulation of ballots by providing an additional layer of security on a paper ballot. This is done by embedding a secure microprocessor and a short-range antenna assembly inside the paper, similar to the technology embedded in public transport tickets. This brings security and simplicity to the voting process.  It ensures that a vote cannot be counted twice, that each ballot cast is unique and immutable, and includes an audit function that allows the public to confirm that the vote they cast has in fact been stored correctly to the chip and has been counted.  This feature is vital for maintaining voter confidence in the process, and allows more credible audits and recounts.  In 2016 one-quarter of US-Americans voted using machines that lacked such a paper trail.[4]  A paper trail that can be audited by the public is an essential safeguard against the perception of an illegitimate result.

It also saves time in the tabulation process by allowing election commissions to quickly count votes free of the disputes sometimes created by paper-only ballots (think hanging chads or stray pen marks).

The chip which is small and thin enough to be embedded in current paper ballots also protects privacy and anonymity in the vote through a unique identifier, a serial number, that can be written (engraved) on the chip, validating it as a true ballot, but not tied to the voter.  While a dedicated machine is necessary to program the chip in the ballot, i.e. to record the vote, machines do not need to be connected to the internet or any network, which reduces the risk of widespread manipulation of votes. The system for recording and counting votes can be maintained in a trusted, yet decentralized way that does not depend on cloud services or internet connectivity.

Disputed elections are not new to the United States or any country, but the controversy and erosion of trust they create are a growing cause for concern.  Most would agree that the internet and a connected world has changed society for the better in many ways.  However, with elections it would be useful take a step back, enhance our old paper ballots with electronic security features, and reestablish trust in an institution that is core to the United States’ and many country’s national values.

Learn More:

[1] Byron Tau, “Virginia Ends Use of Touch-Screen Voting Machines”; Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2017.

[2] Zaid Jilani, “Amid Election Security Worries, Suddenly Paper Ballots Are Making a Comeback”, The Intercept, February 18, 2018.

[3]Tim Hains, “Peggy Noonan on Russia Hack Threat: We Need Paper Ballots in 2018”, Real Clear Politics, February 11, 2018.

[4] Andy Sullivan, “Despite flaws, paperless voting machines remain widespread in the U.S.”, Reuters, September 20, 2016.

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At NXP, innovation is always now, but our focus is always the future. Our dedicated team of experts is united by a passion to make everyday life more remarkable through technologies that continually redefine life as we know it.

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