Verified Voting Foundation EPIC Common Cause

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The right of individuals to vote by secret ballot is fundamental.
Alabama Constitution, Art. VIII

The right to cast a secret ballot in a public election is a core value in the United States’ system of self-governance. Secrecy and privacy in elections guard against coercion and are essential to integrity in the electoral process. Secrecy of the ballot is guaranteed in state constitutions and statutes nationwide. However, as states permit the marking and transmitting of marked ballots over the Internet, the right to a secret ballot is eroded and the integrity of our elections is put at risk.

[T]he General Assembly may by law prescribe the means, methods and instruments of voting so as best to secure secrecy and the independence of the voter.
Delaware Constitution art. 5

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia allow some form of Internet voting – transmitting votes either via email, electronic fax, or Internet portal – typically for use by overseas and military voters. Because of current technological limitations, and the unique challenges of running public elections, it is impossible to maintain separation of voters’ identities from their votes when Internet voting is used. Most states that offer Internet voting recognize this limitation and require voters to sign a waiver of their right to a secret ballot. The authors believe that Internet voting creates a second-class system for some voters – one in which their votes may not be private and their ballots may be altered without their knowledge.

This report examines state laws regarding the right to a secret ballot and the ways in which states are asking voters to waive that right. We also offer recommendations for how voters and officials can preserve privacy in voting while making use of the Internet and technological advances.

Our findings show that the vast majority of states (44) have constitutional provisions guaranteeing secrecy in voting, while the remaining states have statutory provisions referencing secrecy in voting. Despite that, 32 states allow some voters to transmit their ballots via the Internet which, given the limitations of current technology, eliminates the secrecy of the ballot. Twenty-eight of these states require the voter to sign a waiver of his or her right to a secret ballot. The remainder fail to acknowledge the issue.


If the voter wants to submit absentee ballots by fax or electronic mail, the voter must separately sign and date a statement submitted with the electronic mail or the fax transmission that states substantively the following: ‘I understand that by faxing or e-mailing my voted ballot I am voluntarily waiving my right to a secret ballot.’
Indiana Code § 3-11-4-6

waiver requirement map

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The authors support the use of the Internet for a variety of positive purposes in elections. The Internet can support voter registration. Voters can track ballots, obtain information about polling places, wait times, candidates and issues, and much more. The Internet can also be used to seek and receive a digital blank ballot that can then be printed out and returned via postal mail. The transfer of blank ballots to voters is reasonable and does not risk voters' privacy or election integrity; indeed, a key provision of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009 was to require all states to allow voters to request and receive blank ballots via electronic means. We recognize that in some situations, it is challenging to return a ballot via postal mail. The MOVE Act was passed largely to address that issue. It is important that all voters – including overseas and military voters – should have access to traditional absentee mail-in ballots. These ballots do not require a privacy waiver.

Our concern lies with the transmission of marked ballots via the Internet. The Internet can support voter registration. We need look no further than the warning all Alaska voters receive if they use the online voting system to cast their absentee ballots. Alaska acknowledges that the system is insecure and may not work, warning voters that “[w]hen returning the ballot through the secure online delivery system, your [sic] are voluntarily waving [sic] your right to a secret ballot and are assuming the risk that a faulty transmission may occur.” A similar warning on a physical polling place voting system would be considered unacceptable. For some overseas and military voters Internet voting may seem more convenient, but until technology advances to a point where it can be done securely, the risks are overwhelming and it should not be an option. Our elections are too important to gamble on.

We hope that this report will illuminate the issue of the erosion of the secret ballot, and highlight solutions for states that wish to offer alternative voting options to its citizens.


Engage your state policymakers in a conversation about the importance of the secret ballot; share this report with them.

Protect your secret ballot by marking and mailing your printed ballot, avoiding using fax, email or an Internet website or ballot marking portal for anything other than requesting (and if desired, receiving) the ballot.

If you are a military or overseas civilian voter, your voting process starts earlier than for voters who are not overseas.

If you are a non-military/overseas voter voting absentee, check with your election official about how to vote absentee in your state, and when absentee voting begins. Check early so that you can be ready.

Remember, the availability of an online method for marking and transmitting votes does not mean that system is secure, nor that votes will be private, including systems offered in states where a waiver of ballot secrecy is not required.