Paper Audit Trails vs. Digital Audit Trails in the 2016 US Presidential Election

Office Life
|  October 28, 2016 Jeannine Mulliner
Paper audit trails in presidential election

Election security and election hacking have repeatedly made headlines in the 2016 US Presidential Election. One of the issues at stake is the auditability of electronic voting machines – specifically, whether paper audit trails should be mandatory across the country.

According to USA Today, "…most states have moved to systems that marry digital technology with a paper trail, which allows voters to verify that their ballot is accurate before leaving the booth and keeps a paper record that can be checked later."

As USA Today's September 2016 editorial opinion points out, many states have machines that print a paper receipt as soon as the voter casts their electronic ballot. Known as a voter verified paper audit trail, it allows voters to verify that the machine recorded their vote properly. The argument for paper is simple. If ever a re-count is required, paper receipts provide a way to independently verify results.

This story has been widely covered in the media, with CNN reporting that "thirteen states lack paper audit trails in either all or some voting locations."

Amid speculation of a rigged election and allegations of Russian hacking, the lack of paper receipts in swing states like Pennsylvania has fueled concerns about the integrity of election results, according to NBC.  


Election security and paper audit trails

September 6, 2016: USA Today published an opinion on the use of paper audit trails in making digital voting more secure

"Paper is not needed to guarantee the integrity of results"

 Georgia is one of the states using the paperless voting machines. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State of Georgia, responded to the USA Today editorial opinion piece by saying, "Paper audit trails can be useful in elections, but they are not needed to guarantee the integrity or accuracy of results."

"Other industries left paper behind years ago. Millions of electronic banking transactions occur each day in the United States, many on smartphones that Americans use to download gaming apps, surf the Web and open emails – all windows of opportunity for criminals. However, paper receipts are not needed because auditing capabilities are built into the system. The same is true for electronic voting systems. Layers of physical security and close scrutiny prevent and detect tampering or other malicious activity. Votes cast are reconciled at every precinct using voter access cards, poll books and oaths signed by voters."

Read the Secretary of State’s full response.  

GCN: "An auditable election system for 2020"

This week, Government Computer News published a story on a new system being put in place by Travis County, Texas. According to County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, "There are some folks that are concerned that electronic voting by itself isn’t quite good enough and you need some sort of auditable record with it. [...] Voting systems like STAR-Vote are the way of the future because they do answer voter’s concerns about whether the machine is recording the vote properly, but we need to keep electronic voting in our lives because of all of the advantages. We just need a way to audit it, so that it serves us better."  

Reliable digital audit trails

 Digital technologies are transforming many aspects of our lives. The election is a compelling example of the need for secure and reliable audit trails in the digital world – whether for voting, banking, insurance, real estate, healthcare or any other type of regulated transaction. And while e-voting is not a widespread use case for electronic signature software, there is interest in leveraging it to enhance the absentee ballot process.

Across government and regulated industries, we are often asked about the reliability of digital audit trails and the security used to safeguard them against tampering. There are actually a number of security technologies, safeguards and checkpoints such as digital signatures (encryption) that help ensure electronic transactions, records and audit trails are reliable.

In our business, we’ve found that using an electronic process to capture an individual’s intent provides stronger audit evidence than paper. Our e-signature software, eSignLive, captures all "digital fingerprints" that customers and employees leave as they go through a signing process – whether signers are remote or in-person.

Because it captures both a static digital audit trail AND a visual audit trail (which can be replayed like security camera footage), eSignLive is able to provide legal and compliance teams with direct visibility into exactly how a digital transaction took place. That simply isn’t possible in the paper world.

To learn more about e-signatures and digital audit trails, try these resources:



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