voting election security Colorado

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold today announced that Colorado will become the first state in the country to stop using ballots with QR codes.

The removal of QR codes will increase the security of vote tabulation and ensure voters can accurately verify that their ballots are correctly marked, according to a news release issued by the Secretary of State’s office. According to the release, it’s a first-in-the nation added security measure to thwart foreign countries trying to exploit voting vulnerabilities.

“I am proud that Colorado continues to lead the nation in election cybersecurity,” Griswold said in the release. “Voters should have the utmost confidence that their vote will count. Removing QR codes from ballots will enable voters to see for themselves that their ballots are correct and helps guard against cyber meddling.”

Colorado will require voting systems to tabulate all ballots using only human-verifiable information and not QR codes.

The release explains the process as follows: Currently, when a Coloradan votes at a polling location, they may use a ballot marking device that prints a paper ballot that displays both the voter’s choices and a QR code embedded with the voter’s choices. Although voters can see their vote choices, they cannot verify that the QR code is correct. These ballots are tabulated by machines that decode the votes contained in the QR code. QR codes could be among the next target of an attack and are potentially subject to manipulation.

An enhanced system is being developed for this new initiative, and it will be tested and certified before it is deployed. Once fully implemented, all ballots voted in Colorado will be tabulated using the marked ovals on the ballot rather than information from a QR code.

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“The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russian operatives executed a campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election, and warns that efforts will continue in the future,” the release states. “Cybersecurity experts and election integrity advocates have raised questions about the security and verifiability of paper ballots containing a QR code. Secretary Griswold is proactively leading the nation to reduce future vulnerabilities.”

Griswold said the threat environment is constantly changing, and hostile actors will continue searching for vulnerabilities to undermine confidence in our elections.

“We must continually assess all election systems to identify areas that should be improved. Our adversaries are not standing still, and neither can we,” she said.

Unlike Colorado, many states do not have safeguards built in to catch manipulations. Colorado is the only state to have successfully conducted a statewide risk-limiting audit, in which bipartisan teams count randomly selected ballots and compare those results to the machine tallies of the same ballots.

“This statistically-proven method allows Coloradans to have confidence in our state’s election outcomes and guards against QR code manipulation,” the release states, adding there is no evidence that any of Colorado’s voting systems have been targeted or attacked by malicious actors.

By design, in Colorado the computers and devices that mark and count ballots and votes are completely independent from online systems. Colorado prohibits voting system components from being directly or indirectly connected to the internet, and imposes multiple layers of security to ensure that threats are not spread to a tabulation system by other means.

The Perceptions of Electoral Integrity Index shows a direct correlation between secure elections and higher voter confidence and voter turnout. It showed perceived electoral integrity in Georgia, Texas and Oklahoma is especially low, while Colorado scores highly for electoral integrity, along with Vermont and New Hampshire.