Soon after the 2000 presidential elections went to a recount, Americans got acquainted with an exotic new vocabulary – hanging chads and butterfly ballots – and what lawmakers saw as a modern solution to the nightmare of punchcard voting systems: electronic voting machines. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, pouring nearly $3 billion into an effort to get states to adopt those machines. More than a decade and a half later, those same electronic machines are still around in many states. And the system arising from the 2002 congressional fix is now at the heart of growing concerns over the integrity of this year’s elections, with cybersecurity experts suggesting that it is an easy target for hackers. Federal authorities are beginning to get involved. But the best insurance for election integrity – a system that uses paper to back up electronic results – may require new federal funding. Not all of the country is on equally precarious footing. Partly because of bad experiences with glitches in electronic voting machines, some localities have been shifting in recent years toward paper-backed systems.
Pamela Smith, president of the Verified Voting Foundation, told The Washington Post this week that 35 states, accounting for about three-fourths of US voters, now have machines that leave a paper trail.
“When you have voters marking a physical ballot, it’s pretty easy to check – and it’s obvious what’s being counted,” she said. “Those physical records of voter intent can be used for a post-election audit to check the software on a system counting the votes…. It lets election officials use that record to demonstrate that the count was correct.”
But the Verified Voting Foundation says five states – N.J., Delaware, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina – don’t have a paper trail to back up electronic voting.