“No” to Paper Voting

We are going to have a referendum in my country (Bulgaria) whether we want to have remote electronic voting. But let’s assume that we are going to vote “yes” or “no” for accepting paper voting, and I’m yet another person expressing his opinion on the matter. Why should we be against paper voting?

  • It’s not guaranteed whether the result will reflect the actual votes of the people. There’s a high risk for human errors —in counting, in filling the result sheets, in transporting them. We can’t trust a system that relies on a few tired vote counters.
  • Manipulations can be carried out. Even if counting is done properly, the end result depends on a few people who combine the results from the thousands of result sheets. There is no way to be sure that what has been counted is the same as the announced result.
  • It’s expensive. Millions of ballots have to be printed and distributed, thousands of people have to be paid for their participation in election committees. In order to at least partially observe the process dozens of NGOs will have to pay people. That’s a huge amount of money.
  • It is easy to coerce someone to vote in a way he doesn’t want to. By using a chain voting scheme with an initial filled-in ballot, or simply by making people take a photo of their filled ballot before going out of the voting booth. It’s true the voter can afterwards invalidate the ballot, but that way he won’t be able to cast his intended vote anyway. And when the counting is performed, his ballot can be identified by the coercer by indirect evidence (e.g. the place of the stamp, the way the ballot was filled, compared to the picture taken), and that can have negative consequences for the coerced voter
  • The vote secrecy is not guaranteed. How can we be sure that there is no hidden camera in the voting booth? If we have to audit every polling station, the amount of money will grow even further. Also, who guarantees that the envelopes are perfectly opaque, or that nobody is tracking the order in which ballots are put in the ballot box.
  • It can’t guarantee that a voter votes only once. If we allow a person to vote in a polling station that is different from the one designated according to his permanent address (which we should in today’s mobile society), then how will we detect if a person votes two or three times?
  • It poses limitations — what if someone can’t read (which he isn’t required to by law), or if someone has dyslexia? How can they excercise their right to vote? If candidate pictures are put on paper, that will make printing even more expensive. Also, polling stations may be too far away from the place where a voter lives, which prevents handicapped voters from voting. We shouldn’t have random factors, like polling station location, to influence who can and who can’t vote.
  • Paper voting has failed already in other countries. In most totalitarian regimes (e.g. communist ones) paper voting didn’t lead to having real elections. People were afraid to vote for the opposition, they were watched while voting in multiple ways (e.g. putting limited amount of opposition ballots and counting them after each voter leaves the booth). Do we want to use a system that can be corrupted so easily?

But let’s not take all arguments “against” given without context and without relevant expertise. And when someone says “this type of voting won’t work because of <example>”, let’s ask ourselves if it is not a strawman example.

Overall, arguments against e-voting sound like the ones above. Most of the concerns have pretty easy solutions. Solutions which are not 100% bulletproof, but there can be consensus that they are good enough. Neither paper, nor electronic voting can be perfect, because they depend on too many factors, some of which are way outside the particular voting procedure or technology. But both can be sufficiently good to provide for a relatively high level of trust in them. The question is what our mindset is going to be — “this can’t happen” or “how can we make this happen”. And there’s always a way.