Russian hackers tried to tamper with voting systems in 21 states during the 2016 US presidential election, and the American intelligence community expects Moscow will try again in November. But states from Virginia to Rhode Island aren’t focused on new cybersecurity software. Instead, they’re looking to one of the oldest technologies in existence: paper. It’s a striking change from 2016, when five states used electronic voting systems that didn’t leave any paper record of votes, and nine used some paperless machines. Now, states are rushing to take advantage of $380 million that Congress approved last month to help protect voting systems. Most states are prioritizing some kind of paper record. “In this year of our lord 2018, we’re talking about paper ballots, but that actually might be one of the smartest systems,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) told reporters in March.
Paper voting developed a bad reputation after the US presidential election in 2000, when the presidency came down to a handful of votes in Florida. The state used a voting system that punched holes in paper, resulting in the infamous “hanging chads” issue. If the hole wasn’t punched perfectly and the punched-out paper stuck to the sheet, it wasn’t completely clear whether the vote should count.
Congress responded by passing the Help America Vote Act in 2002, which pushed a lot of states to buy electronic voting machines and provided funding for new equipment.
“There was a rush to buy something, anything,” Marian Schneider, the president of Verified Voting, told me. Verified Voting is a not-for-profit that advocates the use of paper voting records.