Fearing electronic vote-counting mischief in the super-heated, upcoming race for US senator between Judge Roy Moore and Doug Jones, Alabama citizens and election integrity activists have asked Republican Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill to commit to preserving the ballot images which are automatically generated by most Alabama vote-counting machines. Absent such an assurance, the election watchdogs have promised to file a lawsuit in the Alabama courts to force the preservation of the images.
In Alabama, the vast majority of counties use the Election Systems and Software (ES&S) DS200 optical ballot scanner, which automatically creates and stores a digital image of each ballot. In many, if not most, precincts across the US, vote-counting machines generate a digital image of each ballot as it is fed into the machine. The image is generated by the machine's optical scanner, similar to an office scanner, but much faster.
The image is intended as an additional audit feature by which to verify the electronic vote count, according marketing literature from a manufacturer.
The paper ballot vote-counting machines in use across the US which perform this function are the ES&S200, the ES&S850, and the Dominion Systems Imagecast Precinct. The ImageCast Precinct is a high-speed vote-counting machine for tabulating mail-in ballots. The election integrity organization VerifiedVoting.org publishes a directory of the kinds of vote-counting machines in use in every state and county.
Polls have Moore and Jones running neck-and-neck in next week's special election. President Donald Trump this week threw his full endorsement to Moore, who has been plagued by numerous accusations of sexual misconduct, which he has denied.
The vulnerability of US elections to malfeasance has been underscored over the past year. Most recently, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and former DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile have conceded that their own party's primary, the 2016 Democratic primary, was "rigged" against Bernie Sanders.
And in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, an attempted recount of these swing states in the 2016 general presidential election was never completed, as election authorities and courts blocked full hand counts of paper ballots.
The election activists have taken the name Alabama Election Transparency Project. Its members include John Brakey, founder of Audit Arizona, an Arizona election watchdog. Also involved are Alabama Attorney Priscilla Black Duncan, and Washington DC election activist and attorney Chris Sautter.
The technology behind digital ballot images is a strong additional check on the accuracy of machine-tabulated paper ballots. The technology allows citizens to check the machine count of votes without actually touching the paper ballots. This audit feature does not require expensive, official staffing and supervision which the hand-counting paper ballots requires. Digital ballot images posted online, or made available on a DVD, allow ordinary citizens and election watchdogs to spot discrepancies in the machine counts, which is what is reported as the official result in present day elections.
Election integrity activists in recent years have called for the digital ballot images generated by voting machines in use across much of the country to be declared a part of the public record. In Arizona, Audit Arizona's John Brakey and his group have fought for ballot images to be preserved, and preferably posted or made available on a DVD to the public.
Brakey notes that ballot images are completely anonymous, and can not be traced to any particular voter, thus preserving the principle of the secret ballot. But, Brakey says, while an individual's voting choices should be private, the vote-counting process should not.
Election integrity activists, in recent conferences across the country, have called for "transparency" in elections, meaning vote-counts should be easily verifiable, transparent, in a process that is open to the public. At a hacker's conference this last July in Las Vegas, hackers demonstrated that they could break into widely-used US vote-counting machines in less than 90 minutes.
In particular, activists have called for all digital ballot images to be preserved and made accessible to the public.