On election day, voters in Pennsylvania will be touching the lighted buttons on electronic vote counters that were once seen as the solution to messy paper ballots. But in the event of a disputed election, this battleground state — one of the few that relies almost entirely on computerized voting, with no paper backup — could end up creating a far bigger mess. Stored in a locked warehouse near downtown Harrisburg, the 1980s-era voting machines used by Dauphin County look like discarded washing machines lined up in rows. When unfolded and powered up, the gray metal boxes become the familiar voting booth, complete with a curtain for privacy. Much may rest on the reliability and security of these aging machines after an unprecedentedly combative presidential campaign that is ending with Donald Trump warning repeatedly of a “rigged election” and his refusal at Wednesday’s debate to commit to accepting the results on Nov. 8. … But computer experts says the old electronic voting machines have a hidden flaw that worries them in the event of a very close election. The machines do not produce a paper ballot or receipt, leaving nothing to be recounted if the election outcome were in doubt, such as in 2000, when the nation awaited anxiously for Florida to reexamine those hanging chads.
“The nightmare scenario would be if Pennsylvania decides the election and it is very close. You would have no paper records to do a recount,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, co-author last year of a report on the risk posed by old voting machines.
About three-fourths of the nation’s voters will be marking paper ballots, most of which will be counted electronically by an optical scanner, said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, a nonpartisan group that has advocated for paper ballots that can be counted electronically and recounted by hand as a way to assure trust in a close election.
California and most of the battleground states — Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia among them — have switched to voting systems with a paper trail. By contrast, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey and South Carolina entrust their votes entirely to electronic touch screens. Pennsylvania is among those states that rely almost entirely on computerized voting, according to Verified Voting. “Pennsylvania is using technology from the ’80s made by the companies that don’t exist anymore. In computer years, that’s a very long time ago,” Smith said.