Do Security Cameras at Polling Stations Increase or Undermine Voter Trust?

Map of the Electoral College for the United States presidential election, 2020,
Map of the Electoral College for the United States presidential election, 2020, Public Domain

A Pew Research survey from 2020 revealed that “75% of Americans” hypothesized there could potentially be multiple foreign governments taking action to influence the U.S. elections (Hartig, 2020). Election security in today’s overwhelming digital state is an absolute necessity to ensure integrity at the polls. Since the 2016 and 2020 U.S. election results led to harsh accusations, charges filed, and cases brought, international and domestic interference has been at the forefront of concerns for many.

Schmitt (2021), a writer for the International Law Studies Journal, signified that the phenomenon of international election interference is widespread and that Russia itself encountered a related attack previously by an astounding 15 countries. This shows that no nation is invincible to a cyber-attack on election processes, and authorities must take swift action to combat such threats.

One of the most promising ways to enhance security at voting polls is to have cameras installed in law-permitting locations. Voters’ trust can be maintained if they are made aware upfront of the reasons for security cameras being on-site and assured their ballots will not be visible for recording. Reminding voters that surveillance is there to protect them, rather than to invade their privacy, is a sure way to gain understanding.

Voters at Electronic Voting Booths
Image by Fairfax County

The Promise and Pitfalls of Security Cameras in Election Security

Security cameras have been used in and near storage facilities where election documents are stored as an attempt to deter unauthorized individuals from accessing files (U.S. Election). Similarly, election officials use video surveillance to secure computers that contain ballot software and results, as well as USB drives and other electronic devices holding sensitive information (U.S. Election). The U.S. Election Commission (n.d.) asserts that these devices and election materials being protected can only be accessed with key cards or other designated entry methods, and each time records or equipment are accessed, it is documented and archived.

Another method that officials use to look for any unusual activity during the election process (U.S. Election) is cyber surveillance. All technical and physical security surveillance measures are part of the election infrastructure that needs to be protected.

Security Cameras for Transparency: Examples

PBS’s NewsHour political division (2022) wrote an article that shed light on the importance of having security cameras in the vicinity of voting centers. The captured security footage they discuss is what the Georgia Secretary of State is deeming as evidence of unauthorized access of voting equipment (PBS, 2022). The allegations made were that individuals who were personally interested in previous President Trump’s candidacy, who made claims of election fraud, had accessed restricted premises without having the proper authorization and remained on the property for hours (PBS, 2022). This incident stemmed from an ongoing investigation led by Fani Willis, the District Attorney of Fulton County, Georgia, to determine whether Trump and allies of his had performed illegal acts to try to influence the 2020 election (PBS, 2022).

Nierenberg, A. (2023) conveyed that voting results for a democratic mayor in Bridgeport, Connecticut were thrown out by order of the judge after videos were recovered showing two women stuffing numerous ballots into drop-boxes. These perpetrators were partisan to the winning mayor, who had previously served prison time for federal corruption committed during his term in office from 1991–2003 (Nierenberg, 2023). This recent act was alleged to be against election laws that prohibit the gathering and retention of absentee ballots, then submitting them on behalf of individuals all at once (Nierenberg, 2023).

Husband & Wife casting their vote
Image by Phil Roeder

Governing Authority for video camera usage in election processes

The legal and regulatory framework regarding election processes and procedures, including the intricacies surrounding video cameras and surveillance, lies primarily in the hands of the states. According to the United States Senate (n.d.), the Constitution initially granted the states complete control over voting regulations but provided for Congress to make amendments if necessary.

Federal policy is somewhat silent on video-specific security at election polls, making the states (or localities) the ultimate decision-makers when it comes to this topic. The federal government focuses more on general concepts such as voting and civil rights, as well as restricting illegal tactics to influence U.S. elections such as tampering with voting materials, making physical threats, creating propaganda, or spreading disinformation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Government Accountability Office, U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Federal Election Commission, FBI, and Congress serve as origination points for developing guidelines for states to abide by.

On a widespread basis, video surveillance is generally prohibited during the actual polling process. The Director of Elections in Texas, Keith Ingram (2018), issued an Election Advisory [No. 2018-11] which set forth the notion that any video or sound recording devices, even in the building where voting polls are being held, should be turned off. They do not believe that cameras should be used, even when they are turned away from voting equipment (Ingram, 2018).

Using security cameras or other recording devices is seen as a privacy issue to voters who may not want their ballots (or faces) shared. The NC State Board of Elections (n.d.) allows phones and devices to be brought to polling locations but prohibits the use of these devices to communicate with anybody or record ballots in any manner during the voting process. They relate the reasoning for this directly to the potential of being engaged in a vote-buying scheme (NC, n.d.).

Privacy in voting

Privacy is a vital component for voters wishing to cast ballots, and officials alike. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, 2021) offered a complex voluntary voting system guide to the Election Assistance Committee outlining that voters should be able to mark, verify, and cast their ballots without needing additional assistance. With past threats and intimidation arising from political tension, it is no wonder people want privacy when it comes to their votes.

Juan Gilbert (2023), a professor and chair of computer and information science and engineering at the University of Florida, collaborated with a few PhD students and evaluated ways to secure and equalize voter access. They signified that facial recognition could be a breakthrough in adequately identifying voters while providing an alternative for people who may not have the ability to travel to voting locations to cast their vote (Gilber, 2023) safely and securely. An issue that may occur with this technique, however, per Gilbert et. al. (2023), is that it may disproportionately affect different races due to not properly identifying people with darker skin tones at a rate nearly as high as lighter tones.

Anything done electronically is subject to cyber security risks including hacking, glitches, and unforeseen errors. Unauthorized access is one of the top concerns in voting security, and such vulnerabilities increase when technology is involved. A UChicago Harris/AP-NORC Poll (2023) showed that 58% of participants believe AI is bound to increase the spread of misinformation in electoral and presidential discussions. UChicago (2023) further relayed that 62% of Republicans and 70% of Democrats do not want their political candidates using AI in their campaigns.

Man and Woman Voting
Image by WyoFile

Striking the Right Balance: Security Without Sacrificing Privacy

Data Protection Methods

The NIST (2021) recommends the following actions to protect voting data: Disconnect from the internet if it is not absolutely needed, securely back up the data, and ensure policies and procedures are up-to-date. The points should be clear and forthcoming to anybody who manages voting equipment or processes. Instructions should make it known that it is prohibited to use personal devices and that access must be limited to only those who have a business need, and in separate areas as appropriate (NIST, 2021).

Authoritative personnel who can grant access should maintain a relatively small and minimal team to keep track of changes, and they should receive important training to guarantee quality outcomes (NIST, 2021). This staff should understand that sharing of passwords is never acceptable (NIST, 2021). Data protection will be most successfully achieved if any changes made, or access granted is recorded and available for auditing (NIST, 2021). Notifying individuals when it is identified their information has been breached somehow is a secondary but essential approach to protecting data from further harm (NIST, 2021).

International Case Studies

Australia: The Australian Electoral Commission (2023) designates an Electoral Integrity Assurance Task Force to monitor and manage suspected crimes, terrorism, interference, or disinformation involving their election processes. This task force conducts risk assessments of cyber, foreign, and false informational threats and shares what they know with the appropriate partnering entities (AU, 2023). They created this force to increase the trust the public has in its electoral systems, and to support their democratic values (AU, 2023). There are multiple ways to vote in Australia and they value the way their citizens view the government. There is no reference to using security cameras or video surveillance at their polls, though the National Library of Australia (2022) reveals that photographs being taken at federal election areas is a tradition and it has been this way since the early 1900s.

Brazil: The Brazilian Government utilizes a completely electronic voting system. Will, N. (2021) studied the efficacy of this strategy and deemed that while it is a fast and accessible process it comes with some risks. Safeguards put in place include using biometrics for identity verification and monitoring for actions that were not authorized (Will 2021). With this being their only method of voting in the country, they do not have to worry about physical video cameras as much at polling places, but cybersecurity of the electronic voting process is of vital concern to prevent fraud and other technical nuisances.

Public Sentiment on Video Surveillance at Polls

When it comes to official state policies in the U.S., it would appear it is largely believed to be an invasion of a voter’s privacy and right to cast a secret ballot when video cameras, or other recording is allowed (NCSL, 2022). The NCSL (2022) relayed that poll watchers are an integral part of voting oversight because they are partisan to politicians and watch the election administration closely to make sure no wrongdoing occurs. These political affiliates are not permitted to interfere in the actual voting process but merely serve as ‘administrative security guards’ in a sense (NCSL, 2022).

A writer, Sarah Coffey (2022), for the Center for Excellence in Polling summarized key points from the results of a voter participant survey designed to measure viewpoints on election security. Considering independents, republicans, and democrats collectively, 63% agree with a government ID requirement to vote, a whopping 65% want security cameras overseeing ballot drop boxes, and 67% want bipartisan officials responsible for the transfer or movement of ballots (Coffey, 2022). See the full poll results here: Election Security Poll-Center for Excellence.

There may be more opinions and polls to view or consider in decision-making, but based on this information alone, it could be perceived that public opinion is contrary to the rules being imposed by authorities regarding video surveillance for election security and integrity. Furthermore, these survey participants want to see election officials penalized if ever discovered they tampered with election materials (Center for Excellence, 2022).

Steps at the US Capitol During 2021 Insurrection
TapTheForwardAssist, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Myths and Facts – Distinguished by video

The January 6 storming of the US Capitol, has been scrutinized extensively through video evidence by journalists and investigators. This evidence has helped debunk several myths and clarify the events of that day. Contrary to some claims, there is no verified evidence that Capitol Police officers uniformly escorted rioters throughout the Capitol without attempting to remove them. Additionally, allegations suggesting that individuals disguised themselves as Trump supporters to instigate violence have not been substantiated by credible investigations. (Hudnall, 2024).

Hudnall (2024) verified that the videos showed a comedian and his videographer preparing to interview people there that day to create funny skits and that the police did indeed ask some individuals to leave several times, but their requests were ignored.

These instances alone prove that video footage can be misused, which could be the thought process behind why Speaker Mike Johnson and other interested figures like Tucker Carlson wanted to reveal the full footage and not just portions of it to offer transparency to the public (Mendez, et. al 2023). The examples above are reminders of why it is important to keep in mind that storylines can be fabricated if the footage has been edited or parts of clips removed, which is another reason cybersecurity is such a vital safeguard when it comes to technology like this.

Without the footage from security cameras, however, election stories could not be validated or disproved.

Expert Advice

The DOJ Cybersecurity Unit (2017) included digital video devices, such as those used for security purposes, to be part of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) category. Most security cameras such as IP cameras or WiFi cameras are considered IoT devices as they contain software running on internal computer chips. These security cameras are susceptible to cyber-attacks and criminals can install malware on them remotely or through other infected devices on the local computer network, wreaking havoc on their ability to function properly (DOJ Cyber 2017). To avoid downfalls, the DOJ (2017) suggested researching to gain a thorough understanding of how to secure your specific device, using strong passwords, and updating them periodically, disconnecting from the internet when possible, updating software when prompted, turning off when not in use (anything plugged in is “on”), and consulting with a professional cybersecurity expert for advice.

Many election security professionals, computer scientists, and voter advocates got together and wrote a letter warning federal officials about threats to future elections (Cassidy, 2023). One of their statements read “The multistate effort to unlawfully obtain copies of voting system software poses serious threats to election security and national security and constitutes a potential criminal conspiracy of enormous consequences,” per Cassidy (2023).

Concerns in the letter pointed to risks of democratic values being compromised and the ability of voting software to be accessed by bad actors who want to identify vulnerabilities so they can feasibly manipulate data to their advantage (Cassidy, 2023). These experts suggested limiting access or retention to election software by legally requiring those in possession to turn what they have in, ban any accused insurrectionists from the ballot, and deliver consequences to wrongdoers (Cassidy, 2023). Without video cameras on site, there will be only hearsay, which is not guaranteed to be allowed for use as evidence.

Gov Tom Wolf Signing a Bill
Image by Governor Tom Wolf

Beyond the Election Security Act: Building Enduring Trust

2019 Election Security Act

The Election Security Act of 2019 was introduced to support election processes financially and provide infrastructure security. Incorporated in this Act is the Homeland Security Act of 2002 that came first, which touches on cyber security efforts vital to protecting infrastructure such as election systems. Because voting equipment is electronic, most of the surveillance security measures mentioned are from a cyber perspective, instead of actual cameras on the premises (Election, 2019).

The Election Security Act of 2019 focuses on security to combat misinformation being spread, improper influence on the US Election Processes, and other bad intent efforts that can damage the public’s trust in the government and its electoral integrity. Since these threatening actions being monitored can come from within or outside the country due to the vast access of technological infrastructure, this act seeks to collaborate with foreign partners to increase the success of operations and limit harm (Election, 2019).

Initiatives aimed at building trust in electoral processes

Merivaki, T., (2023) wrote an article citing the MIT Election Data and Science Lab’s “Learning from Elections” program, which aims to gather election officials’ social media communications and rate them on their ability to build trust based on the information they relay to their audiences. They work with the National Conference of Citizenship to collect all the data posted by state and local electoral officials (Merivaki, T. 2023). They were able to encourage some states to use hashtags in all their official communications, such as “#TrustedInfo 2022” (Merivaki, T. 2023).

The Center for Tech and Civic Life (2020) suggested that tracking ballots online, ensuring older voting machines are updated, testing machines to guarantee they will run properly, auditing changes made in a voter system, and encouraging voter participation in polling processes are all things that can be done upfront to increase voters’ trust. They further recommended that counting ballots in real time, using cameras to zoom in on confusing ballots that are not clear and share with the public, double checking results for accuracy, and being honest about any errors detected are ways to keep voters’ support after the polls are in (Center, 2020).

Emerging Technologies

Blockchain: Dr. Leune, a professor in computer science and math, got together with some of his PhD students to study how blockchain could be used in the voting process, and they found that it would work well because once something is input using this method it cannot be altered (Adelphi 2022). The researchers concluded that blockchain would be 100% secure because there is no way to tamper with the data without it being recorded and noticed thanks to the cryptography protections (Adelphi, 2022).

Through blockchain, any individual would have the ability to review the results of an election while keeping the names of voters private, the writers quoted after Dr. Luene and his students (Adelphi, 2022). At the time they finished their study, they ended on the notion that blockchain would primarily work on machines at polling places but would not have complete efficacy on a fully technological-based system (Adelphi, 2022).

Encryption: The Center for Internet Security (2024) conveyed that encryption is an essential part of securing electoral data, whether it is before, during, or after the voting process. Election officials are provided with the guidance needed to develop security measures and are responsible for sufficiently securing any data compiled through voting processes – they are authorized to determine which information meets the criteria requiring encryption (Center for Internet, 2024). The Center for Internet Security (2024) also gives access links to publications issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which covers federal encryption standards that are mandatory to follow in certain circumstances and especially when personal identification information is present.

Drones (or AI): Using drones or other flying AI to monitor movements at election sites outside of and around the building could decrease the need for on-site officers while offering a real-time feed of any dangers that require an authority presence. This would minimize the uncomfortableness of voters while serving much-needed protection in the event law enforcement action is imminent. Mutually, this type of video surveillance would better detect full movement during the transfer of any voting items instead of solely having cameras at distinct locations. Space surveillance may assist here, too.

Face of Woman with text facial recognition next to it
Image by Eden, Janine and Jim

Addressing Loopholes in Election Security and Privacy

Security cameras equipped with facial recognition are a great starting point in identifying voters coming to polling stations, monitoring the movement of any personnel on duty, and catching anything in question that a human may miss. Implementing video surveillance into voting poll security policy will help reduce fraud, deter bad behavior, and serve as a secondary form of protection for individuals coming to cast their votes. There have been concerns in the past about facial recognition features not being consistently effective among all races, but this should only be used as a lead and not as a total or final solution to any investigation.
Voter integrity may increase in times of political tension if they know that any wrongdoing will be caught on camera. If partisan people are watching the voters, that may make them more uncomfortable. Actual ballot selections can remain private while the closed and surrounding areas are recorded for any unusual, illegal, or suspicious activity. This strategy fosters accountability and acts as ‘proof.’ Visible security cameras are transparent because people will know they are being watched.

Virtual voting not only creates unequivocal access to practically everyone but allows for cybersecurity technology to be incorporated into the process and monitor all actions taken, with virtually no piece of data left out. This makes practical sense due to the prime concerns of election crimes and the focus of new legislation. It would not be perfect though and does open the door to other threats since the Internet is a far larger platform than a local polling station. For something like this to work effectively, voter identity and access controls or prohibitions would need to be thorough and trustworthy; validating the actual user to justify attaching actions to them is probably the largest worry. If there is a major technical crash or other disaster that leads to loss of all the data, recovery may be a problem, too.

Although it may come across as common sense in today’s technology-driven era that anything on the Internet can be seen, some people may find a process that is completely virtual to be a violation of their privacy. If every action a voter takes online is monitored and recorded, they should first be provided with a disclosure in their selected language informing them of this. In this case, if voters were provided an opt-out option, it may mean they do not have a right to cast their vote which would be a constitutional offense. People can see human monitors and video cameras at a voting poll, but they cannot necessarily ‘see’ someone behind a screen who may have unlimited access to their personal identification information.


Security measures around electoral data collection and voter privacy regarding the actual votes, equipment, and results are increasing and becoming more regulatory. However, when it comes to the actual polling locations where voters are coming and going, the biggest security efforts made are placing authorized staff and law enforcement or other human monitors there to ensure everything goes smoothly. The utilization of security cameras at the polls is not widespread or required and is even condemned by some.

The bulk of concerns raised by top federal agencies include interference, intimidation, threats, undue influence, disinformation, and unauthorized access. Most of these issues are being addressed in the cyber realm. The difference between technical and physical monitoring is that every word, opinion, or viewpoint is captured when it is in a database but not when words are spoken out loud or actions taken in person. Human error can occur resulting in a hit or miss when there is not a reliable, impartial source to back up claims, such as video surveillance.

Security cameras are used in buildings, areas, and in situations that need as many layers of protection as possible; they may not be able to prevent crimes, but they sure can prove or disprove claims of criminal activity. Think of hospitals, police-worn body cameras, government buildings like courthouses, jails, schools, and the White House – they all have video surveillance. If elections are one of the most pronounced areas of criminal concern, it only makes sense to implement video security there, too.

No matter what security measures are put in place, there are going to be complaints. There is never going to be a 100% satisfaction rate. It is vital for U.S. election integrity that officials select methods that are logical, proven, and efficient. If progressive, new tactics are to be acted on, it needs to be done with caution and at a reasonable pace to identify and correct things that are not working throughout the process. Ideas being tested should be expected to take a long time before truly becoming a quality resource.

Voters can stay informed of electoral processes, requirements, and legal nuances by doing a simple online search to find their local or state election committee or other organization tasked with managing such intricacies. They can look up federal resources as well to gain additional clarification on what is or is not allowed and what their rights are. If voters feel they are illegally or unethically being targeted or if they have witnessed someone else be treated unfairly, they can contact the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Department of Justice, Federal Election Commission, or Election Assistance Commission, to begin.


  1. Adelphi University. (2022, October 5). Could Blockchain Revolutionize Voting? 
  2. AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (November 2023). There Is Bipartisan Concern About the Use of AI in the 2024 Elections. 
  3. Australian Electoral Commission. (2023, November 28). Electoral Integrity Assurance Task Force. 
  4. Cassidy, C. (2023, December 5). Voting experts warn of ‘serious threats’ for 2024 from election equipment software breaches.  
  5. Center for Excellence in Polling. (2022, June 16). 2022 National Election Security Poll. 
  6. Center for Tech and Civic Life. (2020, December 8). 30 Ways Election Officials Boost Voter Confidence and Trust. 
  7. Coffey, Sarah. (2022, June 29). 2022 National Election Security Poll. Center for Excellence in Polling. 
  8. Gilbert, Juan, et. al. (2023, April 7). Evaluating New Technology for Equitable and Secure Voter Verification. 
  9. Hartig, Hannah. (2020). 75% of Americans say it’s likely that Russia or other governments will try to influence 2020 election. Pew Research Center. 
  10. Hudnall, H. (2024, January 6). What’s real and not three years after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot | Fact check roundup. USA Today. 
  11. Ingram, Keith. (2018, February 16). Election Advisory No. 2018-11. Texas Secretary of State. 
  12. Mendez, D., et. al. (2023, November 17). Johnson makes Jan. 6 footage available to public, makes good on promise to GOP. Spectrum News NY 1. 
  13. Merivaki, T., (2023, March 20). Building voter trust on social media: Election Officials’ communication strategies during the 2022 election. MIT Election Data Science Lab. 
  14. National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). (2022, December 16). Poll Watchers and Challengers. 
  15. National Library of Australia. (2022). Photographs of 2022 Australian Federal Election polling places. 
  16. Nierenberg, A. (2023, November 4). Ballot-Stuffers Caught on Camera Have Upended a Race for Mayor. The New York Times. 
  17. North Carolina State Board of Elections. (n.d.). Phone Usage at Polls. NCSBE. 
  18. PBS News Hour. (2022, September 26). Security footage shows Georgia county Republican chair, election official present during breach of voting equipment. Politics. 
  19. Pub. L. No. 107-296 (2002, November 25). Homeland Security Act of 2002. 
  20. S.1540 – 116th Congress. (2019-2020): Election Security Act of 2019. (2019, May 16). 
  21. Schmitt, Michael (2021). Foreign Cyber Interference in Elections. International Law Studies. Vol 97. 
  22. The Center for Internet Security (2024) Election Security Spotlight – Encryption. 
  23. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). (2021, February 10). Requirements for the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0. Technical Guidelines Development Committee. Voluntary_Voting_System_Guidelines_Version_2_0.pdf 
  24. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). (2021, February 5). Security Recommendations. 
  25. U.S. Department of Justice, Cybersecurity Unit. (2017, July). Securing Your “Internet of Things” Device. 
  26. U.S. Election Assistance Commission. (n.d.). Voting System Security Measures.  
  27. United States Senate. (n.d.). Election Laws.

Don Stephens is a Technical Support Manager at CCTV Camera World, a leading Security Camera distributor located in Buffalo, NY. His area of expertise is in designing professional security camera systems for medium and large scale businesses, schools, and government projects.

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