As election officials adapt to voting during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, fellows at the Brookings Institution are calling for a return to paper ballots to keep elections secure.

Elaine Kamarck, founding director of the Center for Effective Public Management, and former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, a visiting fellow for governance studies at the Center for Technology Innovation, agreed that instituting the low-tech option of paper ballots, even as a backup option, can help stop election interference.

“Paper ballots have, ironically become the safety for fooling around on the internet and somebody trying to hijack our elections,” Kamarck said at the April 14 Brookings webinar. From her research, Kamarck found that most states were instituting backup paper ballots to keep elections secure and do a recount, if necessary.

“Even before the pandemic hit, one of the ironies was that states were moving in the direction of adding paper ballots to the voting apparatus,” she said.

Despite being a self-proclaimed supporter of the digital future, Wheeler admitted that technology is still “a work in progress.” He explained that many consumer devices and networks are inherently insecure, leaving elections vulnerable to interference.

“One of the ways that we get to that digital future is to also understand its shortcomings,” he said.

Wheeler and Kamarck added that the Federal government, states, and localities need to start preparing now for the general election in November to ensure security in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“You cannot escape responsibility for tomorrow by ignoring it today,”  Wheeler said. “We’ve got to be preparing now for what’s going to happen, six or seven months from now.”

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