Paper Ballots in the 2020 US Election


Here’s a cause which may be worthy of EA attention: trying to ensure that all U.S. states must use paper ballots in the 2020 Presidential election.

In the 2016 election, most voters did not use paper ballots. And although it is true that voting machines are not directly connected to the internet, they are not as secure as you might think. Also, voting machines were compromised within 2 hours at DEF CON 25.

Furthermore, and in my view most importantly, even the appearance or not-totally-obviously-unfounded allegations of an unfair election can be very dangerous. Particularly when the current president will almost certainly run for reelection conditional on not being impeached, and it is not unfounded to suspect his campaign may resort to intentional attempts to compromise the ballots.

There are other reasons to think the integrity of the 2020 election will be at risk . Russia will almost certainly be at full force attempting to undermine our democratic process (having succeeded this time), and possibly North Korea as well. Furthermore, if you thought Fake News was an epistemic nightmare last year, imagine when Fake Video technology is perfected.          


I believe this cause is tractable but not easy. A few people have created a petition to enforce paper ballots on change.org in the past, without success, which makes me think most people don’t think this is important. However, my intuition says this is something that relatively few Americans would actively oppose. Therefore I think a concerted effort to start early spreading the worth is likely worth of the time spent. 

Comments (6)

Comment author: DonyChristie 06 August 2017 04:10:35PM 2 points [-]

It's always great to see a new cause analysis! It would be cool to see some math of the utility/importance of this (you may know Guesstimate is a great tool for this :D), and I echo the desire to see tractable steps and an analysis of what effects the intervention(s) could have. I'm also curious where you think most of the disutility from electronic ballots comes from: the candidate that is elected or the perception that the election was hacked? If the former, I'd guess that many people here including me flag an intuitive penalty on cause areas/interventions that involve partisan politics due to its zero-sum, man vs. man, mindkilling nature. It seems likely that politics will naturally try to butt its head into our business and absorb attention, more than it deserves.

Here is a site dedicated to this. Try contacting them if you desire to research the subject further!

Comment author: purplepeople 10 August 2017 05:48:08PM 1 point [-]


And you're right, I want to apologize for my partisan framing of an issue which really need not be partisan. Paper ballots should be required regardless of the current situation, at least from what I understand.

Comment author: LawrenceC 05 August 2017 10:59:20PM 1 point [-]

What are concrete actions that you think EAs can do to help with this?

Comment author: RandomEA 06 August 2017 03:28:05AM 2 points [-]

If EAs decide to lobby state legislatures, they should focus on Pennsylvania and Florida, the two swing states where a significant proportion of voters use a Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machine without a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trial (VVPAT):


Comment author: purplepeople 11 August 2017 12:18:52AM 1 point [-]

For people who know how politics works: are petitions ever effective? Or writing letters to people-who-matter? Or something else?

Comment author: nexech 24 August 2017 07:46:08PM 0 points [-]

Anecdotally, in descending order of efficacy: Phone call to representative from their voter > email to representative from their voter > petition.