01/21/21 The National Cybersecurity Center, in partnership with Tusk Philanthropies, has announced the launch of the Future of Voting: Election Resiliency – 2021 Pilot Projecta grant opportunity to pilot electronic ballot return technologies as a way to better understand how these technologies might help advance resiliency and accessibility. The pilot is a project of the National Cybersecurity Center’s Secure the Vote Program, which seeks to increase confidence in the integrity of elections and improve security around gaps in the infrastructure. 

Recent elections have highlighted a resilience gap in many jurisdictions’ election processes and the technical capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Additionally, there are ongoing concerns about voter accessibility and the need for protections against voter intimidation. In light of these challenges, it is critical to advance the exploration of alternative voting methods that can strengthen the resilience of elections. “Election resiliency could not be more important after the challenges recent election cycles have highlighted,” said Program Director, Secure the Vote, Mattie Gullixson. “We must continue to explore, evaluate, and identify ways to improve the ability for our election administrators to deliver accessible and efficient elections no matter what situations they might encounter.” 

Secure the Vote looks forward to launching voting pilots in 2021 to ask the question of how different technology options might make the overall election infrastructure more resilient and accessible. The pilots will occur via a grant application in which jurisdictions will identify a key resiliency challenge that they seek to remedy via some level of an alternative voting method. Applications are now available for the Mobile Voting Pilot Program Grant Application. https://cyber-center.formstack.com/forms/securethevote_election_resiliency

In considering alternative electronic ballot return methods, mobile voting is one option that requires more study to understand its impact on the resiliency of the overall election system. However, key security concerns remain a barrier to the widespread adoption of mobile voting as a viable method.1 As highlighted in the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, “We do not, at present, have the technology to offer a secure method to support internet [mobile] voting. It is certainly possible that individuals will be able to vote via the Internet in the future, but technical concerns preclude the possibility of doing so securely at present.”2 Key concerns exist around, integrity of the ballot, voter privacy, and ballot secrecy & accuracy. 

Through the generous support of Tusk Philanthropies, Secure the Vote will provide a grant to jurisdictions that seek to offer more secure methods for electronic ballot transmission and return. “Now more than ever, our recent elections have demonstrated the critical need to ensure we advance our election resiliency and accessibility,” said Bradley Tusk, CEO & Founder of Tusk Philanthropies. “As we continue our work to implement accessible voting solutions, we look forward to a continued partnership with the National Cybersecurity Center as we dive into the 2021 Pilot Project.” 

Selected grant applications will work with a team of election and technology experts, along with stakeholders representing a variety of voter interests, to further ensure the success and security of the mobile voting options being explored. The National Cybersecurity Center is currently accepting applications for the January – November 2021 timeframe. Priority will be given to those holding an election in the April/May window, with early consideration given to those having summer or fall races as well, and will be given to jurisdictions that have a clear problem statement they wish to solve through better electronic ballot return practices and access.  

Jurisdictions may learn more and can apply hereQuestions may be sent to securethevote@cyber-center.org 

Electronic Voting – Frequently Asked Questions 

What is electronic voting?   Electronic voting is a lay term that attempts to broadly capture methods by which a ballot might be delivered, or returned, electronically. The context for electronic voting, however, may depend on where the voting takes place, and how the ballot is stored or processed.  

Is there a paper trail for ballots returned electronically?  Like ballot marking devices, the paper trail begins when the election office prints off the digitally marked ballot. The election office scans the paper ballot and tabulates the results.   

Why is electronic ballot return voting an option?  Electronic voting can provide increased accessibility for voting populations that experience greater barriers to voting. Populations that are currently served by electronic voting pilots are overseas voters (UOCAVA) and voters experiencing a disability.   

What voters can use the electronic ballot return option?Traditionally, the electronic ballot return option has been limited to overseas voters. However, in February 2020, King County Conservation District held the first domestic electronic ballot return voting election for the King County Conservation District Board. Voter turnout doubled in the election from the previous election, indicating that it may indeed be a viable option for more domestic voters.  

How do jurisdictions conduct electronic ballot return pilots? Small and large jurisdictions are increasingly interested in conducting electronic ballot return pilots for overseas voters, and possibly even small portions of domestic populations. In order for jurisdictions to participate in pilots, jurisdictions must first ensure that state voting laws allow for the transmission of electronic ballots. Some states still do not allow that option.4 

Jurisdictions then work to identify an industry partner that meets their interest and needs. Organizations exist to assist jurisdictions in vetting industry partners. Some of these organizations include Tusk Philanthropies, the National Cybersecurity Center (NCC), and Trail of Bits and Shift State (both organizations run security reviews). Universities are becoming increasingly interested in supporting reviews and analyses of the technologies as well.