Actions: The Brakey Method

Put the brakes on “mystery elections” once and for all. A simple 3-step method places 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 Or (2) They are using old, out of date voting machines, some of which do not produce a ballot image.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?

A. Some states, like Kansas, Utah, and Nevada, have passed exceptionally undemocratic laws which prohibit any inspection of key election audit documents. If this is the case, litigation or change of legislation will be the appropriate action.

Q. How does the Brakey Method address issues like voter purges or voter ID?

A. It doesn’t. The Brakey Method solves transparency problems with the counting of the vote. There is no magic wand that solves all types of election integrity issues in one swoop. It helps to parse election integrity into four components:

– Who can vote (voter lists)

– Who did vote (participating voter lists)

– Counting of the vote (The Brakey Method produces transparency and auditability of the count).

– Chain of custody (Are the ballots and images the real ballots? Have any gone missing or been added?)

Q. Why is it called The Brakey Method?

A. Actually it has a lengthier pedigree. The first election integrity advocate to propose using ballot images to authenticate the count was Harri Hursti, in 2006. Hursti is the computer security expert who demonstrated hacking voting machines in the film Hacking Democracy. (See Black Box Voting promoted this concept in 2006, working with Hursti to produce a prototype to allow public, open source, automated counting of ballot images if desired. A commercial fisherman named Kevin Collins, from Humboldt County California, together with Carolyn Crnich, a Humboldt County election official, met with Bev Harris to discuss actually implementing the use of ballot images to authenticate the count. Humboldt County purchased an off-the-shelf scanner and began making its ballot images available to the public in 2008. A Humboldt County citizen named Mitch Trachtenberg developed free open source software which improved on the original Hursti prototype. The first time Humboldt County allowed public authentication of the count using ballot images, it was discovered that the central tabulator had miscounted. A Colorado citizen named Marilyn Marks filed, and won, a succession of lawsuits establishing that both ballots and ballot images must be treated as public records in Colorado. But it was in 2016, under the relentless and strategic efforts of Arizona election integrity advocate John Brakey, that the ballot image concept really began to take off.

Brakey requested ballot images from Pima County, was told they were being destroyed. He sought and obtained a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to prohibit Arizona officials from destroying the images. His work mushroomed out into many other U.S. states, generating cooperation from some and obstruction from others. It is Brakey who boiled this important transparency measure down into a simple three-part method (images, connector ID, right to examine actual ballots). It is Brakey who has been most effective at propagating this excellent solution. We need a name for it. Bev Harris started calling it The Brakey Method to make it easy to say and easy to explain as a 1-2-3 process that:

a. Is already available with most voting systems

b. Is already pinned into Freedom of Information rights in most places

c. Costs little or nothing to implement


  • “This might allow voters to sell their vote.” — No, it won’t, and if you are concerned about that you are against vote-by-mail right? Because it is far easier to sell a vote by just taking a picture of an absentee ballot than by trying to identify an anonymous ballot image.
  • “This might jeopardize secrecy of the ballot.” — No, it doesn’t, unless your election administration is permitting an identifier on the ballot which ties back to the voter. One state, Colorado, was caught doing this, embedding a QR code on each ballot which connected to vote ID number, permitting election officials and vendors to see how you voted. The solution is to prohibit printing identifying information on the ballot. There is no special class of persons such as election officials or vendors who have a right to see how you voted.

Using The Brakey Method, it doesn’t matter if Attila the Hun owns the voting machines, the public will once again own its elections.

Work on getting The Brakey Method going in your location. It is, at this time, the most important thing you can to do protect the counting of the vote.






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