South Carolina is one of only five states whose voting machines create no paper trail that could be used to reconstruct the balloting if hackers found a way to change votes in an election. The state has used its touch-screen system since 2004, when Congress spent $4 billion to upgrade systems across the country. That eliminated punch-card systems like the one plagued by “hanging chads” in the crucial Florida recount of the 2000 Bush-Gore race. Lancaster County Elections Director Mary Ann Hudson, whose office has 190 of the paperless machines, is concerned about the dated equipment. “I doubt any of us would wait that long to replace our personal smartphones and computers,” Hudson said. “When you have a system as old as ours, you have to start thinking about possible options.” In the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race, many states are upgrading their machines and electoral databases and adding cybersecurity measures to assure the integrity of the voting process.
The S.C. Election Commission has been sounding the alarm for years that the state’s paperless system should be replaced at an estimated cost of $40 million, but so far the legislature has appropriated only $1 million to study the issue.
“We keep telling our story to anyone willing to listen,” said commission spokesman Chris Whitmire. “We have to plan for replacement, and if we aren’t going to immediately replace them, we have to make some upgrades to extend the life cycle of our current machines.”
The General Assembly, he said, won’t hear a formal recommendation on what’s needed until late next year, too late for the 2018 midterm elections. That’s when new federal standards for voting-machine security will be ready.
“No one knows what those standards will be,” Whitmire said. “The tech companies that design voter systems can’t build them until they have the federal standards.”
By the 2020 presidential election, he noted, South Carolina’s system will be 16 years old.