The North Carolina Board of Elections decided on Thursday, June 13 not to certify any new voting machines. About 30 percent of the counties in the state including Guilford will have to purchase new voting machines to comply with state law requiring paper ballots for the 2020 elections.
Back in 2013 the North Carolina Legislature passed an elections law which included the requirement that all counties use paper ballots marked by the voter and that portion of the law is set to go into effect in December, 2019. It seems like in the intervening six years, someone in the legislature might have decided that the state should join the 21stCentury where everything is becoming electronic.
In an era where people regularly pay for items with their phones and self-driving vehicles are becoming a reality, at a time when people no longer go to the bank or write checks because their paychecks are electronically deposited and they pay their bills online, the state legislature decided that people should vote with paper ballots.
It is incredibly anachronistic. People communicate with text messages and emails. When was the last time the average person sat down with a piece of paper and pencil and wrote a letter?
The fear is that some foreign agent will hack into the elections system and tamper with the results. Did the legislature never hear the term “stuffing the ballot box.” The term is still used even in the world of electronic voting, but it comes from people actually putting additional paper ballots into the box. Election tampering is not a result of electronic voting. It has been around as long as there have been elections.
The 2000 disputed presidential election in Florida involved counting and recounting paper ballots. People do all kinds of weird things with paper ballots. They circle the name instead of coloring in the bubble, or black out one name and put a check mark by the other. If it can be done with a pencil and a piece of paper, it has been done on a ballot and then an elections official has to decide whether the voter made their intentions clear or not.
In the North Carolina 9thCongressional district where the results were not certified and a new election is being held, the problem was largely with the paper absentee ballots.
In an infamous write-in campaign for mayor in 1997, people actually took pens and wrote the candidate’s name on the screens of the voting machines. Unfortunately for the candidate those votes didn’t count.
Guilford County uses touch screen electronic voting machines, but they can’t be hacked in the normal sense of the word because they are never connected to the internet. Guilford County Director of Elections Charlie Collicutt said the voting machines aren’t capable of being connected to the internet either by wire or wi-fi.
The votes are collected on an electronic cartridge. Those cartridges are then physically taken to the Board of Elections office and read by another computer that is never hooked up to the internet and spends nonelection days locked in a vault according Collicutt.
The Guilford County touch screen voting machines also produce a paper record of each vote cast. It would seem like that paper record would be enough to satisfy people who don’t trust these “newfangled” computer thingamajigs. But according to the state statute Guilford County will have to purchase new voting machines at a cost of about $8 million, so that the voter marks the ballot. But the law allows a machine to actually mark the ballot at the direction of the voter and then once the ballot is marked the voter will take it out of the machine and put it in a ballot box.
The ballots in the box will then be counted by another computer. In other words, the paper ballots are not going to be counted by hand, so if the worry is that some foreign entity could hack into the voting machines, why couldn’t they hack into the ballot counting machines.
Even if the North Carolina Board of Elections doesn’t approve an electronic voting machine and voters have to take a number 2 pencil to the polls to color in a bubble, those ballots filled out by hand are still going to be counted by a machine.
The state Board of Elections has to make the decision on approving new voting machines because no county can use a voting machine not approved by the state board. However, the 2019 elections in Guilford County will be held on the same touchscreen voting machines that have been used for years.
But the 2020 election where early voting starts in mid-February for the March primary is supposed to be on the new as yet unapproved voting machines. Unless another extension is granted then between whenever the state Board of Elections approves new voting machines and February, Guilford, Alamance, Mecklenburg and a bunch of other counties will have to purchase new voting machines that create paper ballots, train the staff how they work, train the poll workers on the entirely new process and hold as many training sessions as possible for the public.
It could all work, but there are a lot of things that could go wrong with such a short timeline.
A simple amendment to the statute that would allow a paper record of the vote, instead of requiring a paper ballot would make the whole process a lot more reasonable.
Your article contains many inaccuracies.
Not everything important is becoming electronic. Computer scientists and other election integrity advocates support hand- or machine-marked paper ballots over touchscreen voting machines. They don’t even favor using the touchscreen machines to mark all ballots – it costs too much and takes too much time compared with hand-marking a ballot.
Voting isn’t writing a letter. Elections have consequences that require a slower and more verifiable process. If you screw something up on line with a purchase or at the bank with a deposit – they can put a hold on things or refund your money. They can’t do that with elections – at least not very easy. And if elections were administered with the same cavalier attitude we use about returning stuff at Amazon – we’d have even less confidence in government than we have now.
Nobody stuffs extra ballots into the box with the modern ballot reconciliation practices our state uses. The problem is that with electronic voting on touchscreens, so many things can and do go wrong: the machines are more complex and require more expensive parts for repair; the touchscreens require calibration before each day’s voting; and you can’t easily verify your vote on the thermal paper trail as easy as you can on your paper ballot. The paper ballot you mark is what’s counted by the scanner – or read by eye.
You are way off the mark with the 2000 Florida ballots – they were punchcard ballots with hanging chads – not marked with pens. You are talking about apples and oranges.
The fraud in the 9th wasn’t in the use of paper ballots – it was ballot harvesting: fraudulently collecting the paper ballots, throwing some away, and marking some that they could. And you can’t do absentee by mail with electronic voting machines – how would you mail touchscreen machines to voters at their homes? So really unsure what your point is.
Any voting machine could be hacked by anyone that had access to it. Voting machine company techs can install uncertified software patches and who would know the difference? They could be hacked by inserting code into the machine. That’s been done in weekend white-hat hacking lab sessions by middle schoolers. The touchscreens aren’t always calibrated properly before each voting session – and many people don’t verify that all their choices were accurately recorded by the touchscreen voting machine on the paper trail. Compare that with the paper ballots where you mark your choice and that’s what the scanner counts.
The DRE machines do not make a paper record of each vote cast. The vendor claims an error rate of only 1-1.5%. Real-life testing shows the rate to be much higher. There have been elections where the margin between candidates is less than the rate of printer failure. So then how do you do a recount?
You say Guilford will have to replace voting machines for $8 million. That’s to replace each and every old DRE touchscreen machine in 169 precincts and several early voting sites with a newer touchscreen machine that is either hooked up to a separate ballot on demand printer, or with a hybrid all-in-one machine – and a scanner in each voting location to read the bar-code ballot. Compare that with Wake County with 206 precincts which just replaced 270 M-100 optical scanners (and three M-series hi-speed scanners) with 270 DS200 and 3 DS850 high speed scanners for $1.3 million. Guilford is paying more because you made a bad decision years ago to go with touschreens and stay with them in 2006. You could save more money and have more election integrity by going with scanners and paper.
The paper ballots could be counted by hand. Each and every county must do an hand-to-eye manual count of the paper ballots or the paper tape for a mandatory audit. Have you ever compared the serial tape count to a hand-marked paper ballot? The hand- or even machine-marked paper ballot is easier to read because the voter’s vote is marked RIGHT by the candidate’s name. Much easier to read than the serial VVPAT. And they can be counted by hand if the machines are hacked. If the DRE machines are hacked – you have no way to even guarantee if the votes on the paper tape are recorded the way the voter intended.
That’s because of several factors: the NCGA wrote the original statute decertifying the DRE machines in 2013. 5 years should have been enough time, but the SBOE staff dragged their heels and didn’t come up with new standards until 2017.
And in 2016, McCrory lost to Cooper, and decided to call the NCGA back into session to mess with Cooper’s ability to appoint a majority of the SBOE and County BOE members – by creating a requirement for an 8 member SBOE. Before the new state and county BOE members were to be appointed and seated in Spring 2017, the courts declared the new law unconstitutional. They dumped the 5 member SBOE, and kept the 2013-2017 County Boards in place. There were no SBOE members to consider certification.
Then the NCGA came back with a plan for a 9-member State Board of Elections and Ethics in Spring 2018 – with 4 member county BOE. The SBOE wasn’t going to mess with voting machines during a mid-term election. This time the courts shot down both state and county Election Boards after the 2018 general election. And then there was the District 9 mess which both the old 9-member and new 5-member board dealt with. And by that time – the new Democratic majority was ready to replace the old ED that they could have replaced back in 2017.
And Guilford County could do what so many other counties which used the M-100 scanners and paper ballots are already doing: purchase the newer DS200 scanners with the older software and firmware for 2020 – and then upgrade once the certification takes place.
They wouldn’t have to purchase machines that create paper ballots. They would buy scanners that scan pre-printed paper ballots that are marked by hand or by an Auto-MARK ballot marking device for disabled voters.
Back in late 2005, the state approved one vendor and that one vendor rolled out new voting machines, trained staff and poll workers, and did voter education all by the May 2006 primary election.
And it doesn’t take that much voter education to teach people how to fill in an oval on a piece of paper. People have been filling out ovals on standardized tests since the 1930s – and kids are still doing that now in places all over NC. You are making this much more complicated than it needs to be.
And you also need to read up on the statutes and learn more about how elections are administered in NC. There’s a lot this article proves you don’t know – and it’s irresponsible to print the wrong information about our elections.
I must say, I agree more with Chris’ reply than the article. I found this article snarky and demeaning to the general public. A machine is a machine and can be exploited a lot easier than a paper ballot. To say that just because we, as a the citizenry, decide to use paper ballots means we are stupid or short sighted is as asinine as it is insulting.