As Germany braces itself for its general election coming in September, talks of cybersecurity and election integrity buzz around the scene.
As Americans, we’re no strangers to voter fraud allegations. After all, just look around at what’s taken the country by storm since the November election (the Arizona audit, the thousands of affidavits delivered to officials in Michigan, tightened voter integrity laws to cite a few).
But, according to Deutsche Welle, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer looks to stave off potential voter fraud and software hacking claims from the “far-right” with one move the U.S. could learn from in the future: Avoiding voting machines.
But one aspect of Germany’s September election resembles what Americans witnessed in November: The country anticipates an especially high number of mail-in ballots.
“In Germany, mail-in votes are checked against the voter registry as they arrive and [are] kept in a locked ballot box in a secure location until election day to prevent tampering,” DW reported.
“The ballot box for in-person votes is also locked and watched by at least three people from the electoral board to make sure no unauthorized ballots are added. When voting ends at 6 p.m. on election day, the boxes are then opened in the presence of all members of the electoral committee and observers and counted.”
Federal Returning Officer Georg Thiel, the man responsible for overseeing Germany’s elections, highlighted that the country does not use voting machines, but instead opts for paper ballots that are hand-counted.
That’s a very different picture from what’s seen here in the U.S.
“We don’t have a situation with voting machines that we may know from the US. The actual voting procedure at the polling station is old school,” Thiel said, “When I explained to a senior official from the Interior Ministry recently that it works with paper and pencil, he said, ‘that reassures me.’”
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“We have no voting machines — at the end of the day, it’s the ballot paper that gets counted,” he added.
Despite all of the talk about September’s general election, Germany isn’t the only country still opting for paper ballots.
Our friends to the north share the same system.
“[We do not] use Dominion Voting Systems. We use paper ballots counted by hand in front of scrutineers and have never used voting machines or electronic tabulators to count votes in our 100-year history,” Elections Canada shared in a tweet.
Elections Canada does not use Dominion Voting Systems. We use paper ballots counted by hand in front of scrutineers and have never used voting machines or electronic tabulators to count votes in our 100-year history. #CdnPoli pic.twitter.com/dp7ZiB84ql
— Elections Canada (@ElectionsCan_E) November 16, 2020
Aside from allegations that an election official could intentionally discard or “miscount” votes that don’t align with his (or her) views, such systems do remove cybersecurity breaches or computer tabulation errors from the equation.
After all, humans are far from perfect, but computers simulate the jobs we are meant to do — without our capacity for reason.
Thiel also mentioned the unique quality of transparency that characterizes Germany’s elections, saying that any citizen can walk in and watch as votes are being tallied.
That way, citizens can see the process for themselves and can help ensure that vote-tallying is ethically performed.
Many of the controversial claims from the U.S.’s November election stemmed from machine error accusations or cybersecurity concerns (especially considering Dominion Voting Machines, which were used in several key swing states, were connected to the internet).
Consider the surprise when Antrim County, Michigan, a Republican stronghold, flipped blue during the general election, for instance.
Initially, then-candidate Joe Biden led former President Donald Trump by 3,000 votes, but recounts proved the opposite — a systemic error had put Trump behind when he was actually ahead by over 2,500 votes.
Georgia also used these voting machines in November and had never used them during previous general elections. Since I’m a Georgia voter, I know firsthand.
The outcome was unexpected, flipping Georgia blue on the electoral map for the first time since 1992.
But mail-in ballots are also a part of the equation.
Florida, a far more populous state, also used Dominion Systems last November — but their returns (including counting mail-ins and absentees) took far less time than Georgia’s.
Some unique accusations place Fulton County in scrutiny’s bullseye (the infamous “water main break,” for one), which would help us explain why Georgia took so long to tabulate its results — and perhaps why the flip to blue came after so many hours.
Is Florida really considered a more conservative state than Georgia? Hardly.
In any case, state election officials could learn from Germany and Canada’s examples and ward off a number of election integrity issues for future election cycles.
After all, the last thing we need is a repeat of 2020.