By Bev Harris of


public elections back under public control.


  1. Preserve and make public the “ballot images” — Modern voting systems take a picture of every ballot, called a “ballot image.”
  2. Peg the ballot image to the actual ballot using a unique ID number (not connected to any voter identifier in any way).
  3. Make sure ballots are a public record so that any person can arrange to inspect the actual ballots at any time.

Ballot images can be released electronically, either upon request or — better — by placing them on the Web, allowing any person to examine pictures of any or all ballots. These electronic images can be authenticated by any person by checking any ballot, which must contain same unique ID number.


Q. Do all voting systems make ballot images?

A. Most of them do. The best ballot images are actual photographic images of voter-marked paper ballots, but even the paperless DRE machines are capable of, and usually do, automatically make ballot images.

Q, Where do I go to ask to see ballot images?

A. Public records and freedom of information laws direct persons to the “custodian of the records.” For most locations, the custodian of the records for ballot images is the county elections office. In some locations, primarily in New England, the custodian of the records is a municipality.

Q. How do I ask for the ballot images?

A. You can go to the elections office with a USB stick in hand and ask for a copy as a public records request.

Q. What if they tell me the ballot images don’t exist?

A. There are two possible reasons this could be the case: (1) They destroyed the ballot images, which violates records retention requirements and destroys a crucial audit record, and, in some states, constitutes a felony. (Note that one case, in Alameda County Calif, required an election official to re-run an election after she destroyed audit records.) Or (2) They are using old, out of date voting machines, some of which do not produce a ballot image. If they destroyed the ballot images, seek out a qualified attorney to take appropriate legal action, or focus on obtaining legislation to require preservation of ballot images and making them public. If they are using machines which do not produce the images, focus on public pressure to purchase the right kind of voting machines next time, and/or on getting legislation requiring the use of machines that produce ballot images, plus public release of the images.

Q. What if they won’t let me see anything at all?


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