Re: Security markings on the ballot

From: Douglas W. Jones <jones_at_cs_dot_uiowa_dot_edu>
Date: Fri Oct 24 2003 - 08:31:14 CDT

On Friday, October 24, 2003, at 12:37 AM, Arthur Keller wrote:

> What do you think about printing the ballots on special paper
> pre-printed with color ink that says County of XXX Ballot etc., like a
> real ballot, with a serial number printed on a perforated tear-off stub
> the voter can keep. That allows for some control over ballot stock,
> and makes it harder to substitute ballot forms.

Makers of optical scanners used to make a fuss about the special inks
and papers required to print on their products, but in recent years,
this has turned out to be so much hot air.

Well, in fact, they had an ulterior motive. The money you made in
the election business was largely a matter of selling services and
supplies, so even if it didn't take special paper, the claim that it
did was one way to get counties to pony up the cash every election.
They frequently manage to charge over a dollar a ballot for printing.

One voting system test we did, they sent the examiners a pack of
ballots before the test, so I took a ballot to a local photocopy
shop and asked them to duplicate it. We found that they had stock
that was about the right thickness and the right color, and with a
bit of work, we produced an extra handful of ballots this way. The
tricky part was the two-sided copying, with near perfect registration,
on a size stock and from a size of original that they couldn't
do automatic 2-sided copies of.

The counterfeit ballots worked perfectly, and only after I'd run them
through the scanner did I point out that I'd only been issued one
pack of ballots to start with.

The reaction of the election officials was generally positive, even
a bit excited. "You mean, if I run out of ballots, I can get extras
at a local copy shop, in an hour or two, on election day? That's
great. Boy would that eliminate headaches!" I did point out that
it meant that a crook could also do this, but they shrugged that off.

(Some counties even post the PDF images of their official ballots on
the county website before the election!)

So, although some people today believe that special paper and printing
gives us an assurance of ballot authenticity, it's a very weak
assurance, at least the way many vendors and election officials
administer things.

Do I believe that special paper and security printing would be good?
Yes. Do I believe that the claim of special paper and security
printing means anything? Not really. It's sort of like those
security screws they use to assemble fixtures with at rest areas
on interstate highways. My Swiss army knife screwdrivers don't fit
them, true, but I can get the screwdriver bit that fits them at
Ace or TrueValue for a dollar or two. It's only security against
a casual crook, not against a determined adversary.

The only exception would be genuinely limited production paper, made
under the kind of security they use for the paper used for national
currency. For some reason, they don't stock that kind of paper at
the local copy shops!

                                Doug Jones
                                jones@cs.uiowa.edu
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Received on Fri Oct 31 23:17:04 2003

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