As the clock winds down to what could turn out to be an extremely close presidential race, some election watchdogs are keeping a wary eye on paperless electronic voting machines that are scheduled to be used in several key states and jurisdictions around the country. Paperless systems are basically Direct Recording Electronic systems (DREs) in which voters cast their ballots in a completely electronic fashion by using push buttons or touchscreens. Some DREs allow voters to print out a paper copy of their ballots to verify that their vote was cast as intended. Election watchdog groups such as Verified Voting and Common Cause and academicians have insisted that such a voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) is vital to ensuring the integrity of the vote in jurisdictions that use DREs.
But a total of 16 states will, to varying extents, use DREs that do not support a paper trail as their standard polling place equipment, according to Verified Voting. Of these, six states — New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana — will be completely paperless. All ballots that are cast in these states will be on DREs that support no paper trail whatsoever.
… The extensive use of these systems in the upcoming elections is troubling, said Pamela Smith, the president of Verified Voting. Ideally, all jurisdictions around the country should be using voter-marked paper ballots and optical scanners for counting the votes, Smith said. But if a DRE is being used, it should support a paper trail at the very minimum, she said. “There is a strong chance that a DRE system is working the way it should,” she said. “The problem is there is no way to confirm that easily,” she said.
… “You can’t do a post-election vote tabulation audit in such cases because there is no independent record of the votes,” Smith said. “You are checking the system against itself. It is sort of a circular argument,” she said. Even a few incorrectly counted or missing votes could make all the difference in a tight election especially if it happens in a key swing state, she said.