It’s difficult to talk for long about voting technology and election security in South Carolina before hearing the name of Dr. Duncan Buell. Since the state invested in its first electronic voting computers in 2004, Buell, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of South Carolina, has studied the performance of the technology in the region. He is one of only a couple of South Carolinians who belong to the Election Verification Network, a group of interdisciplinary voting experts from around the country, and serves on the Richland County Board of Voter Registration and Elections. So when he discovered that a panel of five people with limited technical expertise had been entrusted to choose the new technology that S.C. voters would use for many elections to come, Buell asked to present his knowledge at one of the group’s meetings in 2019, which were coordinated in part by the State Election Commission (SEC). He was added, then mysteriously taken off the agenda, he says. “That’s not in the citizens’ best interest, but he’s the sharpest critic (the SEC) had,” said Frank Heindel, a retired businessman from Charleston and self-described citizen activist who has requested hundreds of pages of documents from the government about S.C. elections. “I don’t think they wanted to hear it.” The decision is just one example of how for years, choices about voting technology in South Carolina have been made behind closed doors, say lawmakers, citizens and voting scholars. Scientists believe the technology products S.C. officials ultimately selected, including the voting machines now being used in the 2020 presidential election, have not always met the “gold standard” for safety.
A $5.8 million contract for a new voting system in Shelby County fell one vote short of the seven needed from the Shelby County County Commission Monday, Oct. 12, in a move that critics say could delay the local vote count in the upcoming presidential election. While the election system wouldn’t have been used until the 2022 elections, the Election Commission sought approval to buy the system in order to have ballot scanners to process an expected increase in absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election in less than a month. Ultimately, however, county commissioners had too many problems with a call by the Election Commission to approve the entire contract or nothing at all. Commissioners, therefore, voted down the system 6-5.Commissioners also expressed reservations about changes in the bid terms for the number of scanners before the Election Commission approved the contract with ES&S LLC of Omaha, Nebraska, and sent it to the County Commission. Election Commission administrators increased the number of ballot scanners, upping the dollar amount of the contract by $1.1 million after realizing none of the firms bidding for the contract realized that by state law, such scanners can only process a maximum of 9,999 ballots each in an election night count.
The North Carolina NAACP has asked a judge to bar the use of a touch-screen voting machine in several counties due to what it says are heightened risks associated with using them during the coronavirus pandemic. The request made to a Wake County judge Wednesday says the ExpressVote machines create “unique and substantial risks to the lives and health of voters” because they will be touched by many people, The Charlotte Observer quotes the request as saying. The request comes more than three months after the group filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Elections and county election boards seeking to stop the use of the machines. The state attorney general’s office asked a judge to dismiss that lawsuit, the Observer reported.
North Carolina: NAACP asks judge to ban the kind of voting machines used in Mecklenburg County | Jim Morrill/Charlotte Observer
Citing health and security concerns, North Carolina’s NAACP asked a Wake County judge Wednesday to block the use of touch screen voting machines in Mecklenburg and other counties. The move came three months after the group filed suit against the State Board of Elections and several county boards. Earlier this month the state attorney general’s office asked a judge to dismiss the suit. The NAACP argues that new, touch screen voting machines risk exposing voters to COVID-19. It also said the ExpressVote machines are “insecure, unreliable, and unverifiable” and threaten “the integrity of North Carolina’s elections.” Wednesday’s request for an injunction said the machines create “unique and substantial risks to the lives and health of voters” because each screen will be touched frequently. The two dozen or so counties using the machines, it said, “are forcing voters to choose between their right to vote, their health and potentially their lives.”
Citing “extreme wait times and confusion at polling places” in some precincts in and around South Carolina’s capital city during Tuesday’s primary, state election officials said they are sending help before upcoming runoffs, including poll manager training and equipment testing. “The South Carolina State Election Commission is disappointed with the conduct of yesterday’s primaries in Richland County,” the Commission said in a release Wednesday. “We know election officials and poll managers were faced with the extraordinarily difficult task of conducting an election in a pandemic. But yet again, voters were unnecessarily subjected to extreme wait times and confusion at polling places.” The COVID-19 outbreak – which has infected more than 15,000 in South Carolina, killing more than 560 – created some questions as to how Tuesday’s elections would be carried out. In an effort both to alleviate numbers at the polls and assuage voters’ concerns about contagion, lawmakers recently passed a law allowing universal absentee voting because of the pandemic. A federal judge also temporarily removed a policy requiring that a witness sign an absentee voter’s ballot. But the relatively low-key state primaries in South Carolina still saw long lines at a few precincts, especially in Richland County, as polling places were combined because many longtime workers at sites didn’t take an assignment this year because of concerns of contracting the coronavirus.
West Virginia: The pandemic primary created challenges for election officials. Now, they’re preparing to repeat the process in November. | Politics | Lacie Pierson/Charleston Gazette Mail
Less than 24 hours after the polls closed for West Virginia’s 2020 primary election, Secretary of State Mac Warner said there were a lot of lessons learned and more work to do if officials are going to repeat the process in November amid the global coronavirus pandemic. Employees in county clerks’ offices throughout the state already had received approximately 217,885 absentee ballots as of Wednesday, and another 44,468 absentee ballots still were outstanding, according to the secretary of state’s website. County clerks and voter canvassing boards have plenty more work to do beyond waiting for the remaining absentee ballots to come back in, Warner said, but while that work is being completed, West Virginians and county clerks should be proud of their extra efforts to make this a “smooth and clean” election. “The election worked, but there are lessons to be learned from this,” Warner said. “I’m anxious to let the [county] clerks get through the canvassing process and talk to them about what worked, what didn’t work, what their recommendations are, should we get into this situation in November.”
South Carolina: Voters report races missing from ballots at Richland polls during primary | Greg Hadley/The State
On an unprecedented Election Day, reports of problems at polling stations across Richland County have been rolling in. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that led to increased requests for absentee ballots, there has been a shortage of poll workers at combined precinct locations and issues with ballots, as well. “We’re not off to the start I’m looking for,” Terry Graham, interim director for the Richland County Elections Board, told The State on Tuesday morning. Graham could not immediately be reached for comment in the afternoon. Graham also told the newspaper that he went into the day knowing there would a shortage of poll workers but didn’t expect so many to be unavailable. State Rep. Beth Bernstein, whose 78th district is based in Richland County, said the number of poll workers was significantly down. “When we normally have 900 to 1,000 poll workers for our election, a month out we were at like 300 and something,” she said. “I do believe it came up to maybe 500 or 600, I don’t have those exact numbers, but it was significantly less.”
Arkansas: Voting machines arrive, but safe storage an issue | Dale Ellis/Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Two semitrailers were filled to capacity with 148 ballot markers, 148 stands, 80 poll tablets and printers, 41 vote tabulators, and assorted equipment intended to get the county up to the latest standard in voting hardware and software. The equipment, supplied by Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems and Software, was part of a $2.7 million purchase made by the Arkansas secretary of state’s office using state and federal funds to provide new voting equipment to nine Arkansas counties that lacked adequate funding to share the cost with the state. By the March 3 primary, 64 Arkansas counties had upgraded to the new ExpressVote system, purchased through a mixture of local, state and federal funds. Pulaski and Scott counties signed contracts in February to receive new voting equipment. The nine remaining counties — Bradley, Conway, Fulton, Jefferson, Lee, Monroe, Newton, Searcy and Stone — were notified last month that they would receive the equipment without having to come up with matching funds after the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a sharp economic downturn.
Tennessee: Connection between Shelby County Elections administrator and ES&S under scrutiny | April Thompson/WREG
WREG has learned there is a lot of controversy surrounding the company providing new voting machines for the county and the Shelby County Elections administrator. WREG has confirmed with an election commissioner the company is ES & S, the same company that commission and election administrator Linda Phillips recommended. Phillips says the new machines are desperately needed. “Our current scanners are very, very old,” Phillips said. “Our new election system has new modern updated scanners. But I am becoming increasingly concerned we will not get those in time to do the August election. The hold up, the Letter of Intent for the new equipment hadn’t been approved by the County Mayor.” A group of concerned citizens have raised the issue about the purchase and about Phillips. Erika Sugarmon among them. “It’s an appearance of conflict of interest. Because once these contracts are executed then one or two of her children has appointment with these companies,” Sugarmon said. “And the company ‘Everyone Counts’ for example, she worked there prior to coming to the Shelby County Election Commission.”
Kansas: Johnson County will consider spending $1 million to update voting machinery to address COVID-19 concerns | Roxie Hammill/Shawnee Mission Post
County election officials are getting set to spend $1 million soon to add tabulation devices to its two-year-old voting machinery – a move election officials say is necessary because of concerns over the spread of COVID-19. But the change also renders redundant the built-in tabulation function that was the star feature of the $10.6 million purchase in 2018. That year the county was first in the country to use the voting machine/tabulation combo that had just been developed by vendor Election Systems and Software, of Omaha. The existing machines will now basically become ballot markers instead. Voters who use them to make their choices will then walk their marked ballots over to a separate tabulator to be counted, said Connie Schmidt, who is election commissioner through this year’s ballots, after which the Secretary of State’s appointee Fred Sherman will take over. The plan is to swap out 240 of the voting machines with brand-new DS 200 tabulators, Schmidt said. But because they aren’t equal in price, the county will need to spend another $1,020,500. And it has to be done before the end of May, because that’s when special pricing expires from a previous group deal with Sedgwick, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties. All but about $35,000 may be reimbursed from federal funds.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is leading a lawsuit against the South Carolina Election Commission to allow residents to vote by mail in elections through the end of the year amid fears that coronavirus-related social distancing mandates will still be in place in the coming months. The national party’s main fundraising apparatus for U.S. House candidates filed the suit Wednesday asking the state to expand absentee voting opportunities in advance of the scheduled June 9 primary and November general election. “Our leaders should be using every available tool to ensure South Carolina voters don’t have to choose between protecting their health and participating in our democracy,” DCCC chairwoman Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., said in a statement announcing the suit. “We’ll keep fighting to ensure voters can safely and freely participate in our democracy during this time of uncertainty.” Under current South Carolina law, all voters can request and cast absentee ballots. They must, however, have a specific excuse that adheres to a set of more than a dozen, established reasons for not being able to vote in person on Election Day.
Tennessee: Shelby County Election Commission Attorney Shares Office with ES&S Lobbyist | Jackson Baker/Memphis Flyer
In advance of a scheduled meeting Thursday afternoon at which county Election Administrator Linda Phillips is expected to reveal her preference for a vendor of new election machines for Shelby County, proponents of hand-marked voting devices expressed alarm over a potential link between an Election Commission lawyer and one of the vendors bidding on the county contract. The ES&S company, vendor of the controversial Diebold election machines now in use county elections and known to be a bidder for the contract on behalf of a line of devices that mark ballots by mechanical means, is represented by the lobbying firm of MNA Government Relations, which leases space in its Nashville office to the Memphis-Nashville law firm of Harris-Shelton. Both John Ryder and Pablo Varela, attorneys for the Election Commission, are principals of the law firm, and Ryder’s name appears in tandem with that of MNA on the interactive glass register in the lobby of Nashville’s Bank of America Building. Upstairs on the 10th floor, a metal plaque outside the office door of MNA lists the two companies together, with the company name of MNA followed by a forward slash and then the name of the law firm. [See photos.]
Arkansas: State finds cash to buy 9 counties voting gear; cost of equipment estimated at $2.7M | Michael R. Wickline/Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Secretary of State John Thurston’s office has decided to use state and federal funds to pay for new voting equipment in the nine Arkansas counties that don’t have updated equipment for the Nov. 3 general election. The counties, initially, were to share a portion of the costs for new equipment. “Given the impact the covid-19 pandemic has had across the state, the secretary of state’s office has had to reassess our plan in working with the remaining nine counties for new election equipment,” said Kevin Niehaus, public relations director for the Republican secretary of state. “With the counties needing to realign their fiscal priorities, it became apparent to us that fully funding the election equipment for these counties was the only viable option,” he said in a written statement. “With the integrity of our elections at stake, having all 75 counties working off the new equipment has always been a top priority.” The nine counties are Bradley, Conway, Fulton, Jefferson, Lee, Monroe, Newton, Searcy and Stone.
North Carolina: Suit claims ES&S ExpressVote could leave voters vulnerable to COVID-19 | Jim Morrill/Charlotte Observer
North Carolina’s NAACP has filed suit against election boards in Mecklenburg County and elsewhere, charging in part that new, touch screen voting machines risk exposing voters to COVID-19. The suit also says the ExpressVotemachines are “insecure, unreliable, and unverifiable” and threaten “the integrity of North Carolina’s elections.” The N.C. State Board of Elections, which was also sued, referred questions to the state Justice Department. Laura Brewer, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Stein, said the department is reviewing the filing. Mecklenburg and several other counties adopted the machines in response to a 2013 state law requiring paper ballots in an effort to maintain elections security and stop potential hacking. The machines are similar to those used in the county since 2006. But after using a touch screen to make their choices, voters pull out a paper copy of their ballot and give it to a poll worker who inserts it into a tabulator. County and state officials have said the machines are secure. The suit alleges that the machines give voters a printed copy of their selections. But it includes a barcode of the selections that the suit says “may not necessarily match the human readable text.” The NAACP also alleges that the machines are susceptible to sabotage or hacking.
North Carolina: Lawsuit cites virus to stop touch-screen voting | Gary D. Robertson/Associated Press
The threat of hand-to-hand contamination from the new coronavirus while voting entered arguments in a lawsuit seeking to stop the use of touch-screen ballot-marking machines in North Carolina. Lawyers for four North Carolina voters and the state NAACP largely cited constitutional concerns in the lawsuit announced Wednesday in asking that the equipment from the nation’s largest voting machine manufacturer be barred from future elections. About 20 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have the machines, used first in one way of another during last month’s primary elections. But the plaintiffs also said using touch-screen machines are inherently hazardous to use during the COVID-19 crisis, because voters and poll workers are smudging screens with fingers and hands that could transmit the virus to unsuspecting people. Cleaning the ExpressVote machines — created by Election Systems & Software and targeted in the lawsuit — after every vote, would create long lines at voting sites, the lawsuit said. An ES&S memo last month recommended poll workers should use lint-free cloths with isopropyl alcohol or prepared alcohol wipes to clean screens for at least 30 seconds to disinfect them.
North Carolina: Voting rights advocates file lawsuit over allegedly insecure voting machines | Maggie Miller/The Hill
A group of voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that voting machines used in almost two dozen North Carolina counties are not secure and could lead to voter disenfranchisement in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit, filed by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and multiple North Carolina voters, alleges that the use of the ExpressVote XL voting machine violates the constitutional right of individuals in the state to free and fair elections, and has cyber vulnerabilities that could lead to election interference. The ExpressVote machines involve the voter inputting their choices digitally, with the machine then printing out a paper sheet with a barcode embedded with the voter’s choices. The voting rights advocates point to this system as making it impossible for the average voter to ensure their vote wasn’t changed and was accurate. “The ExpressVote is an insecure, unreliable, unverifiable, and unsafe machine that threatens the integrity of North Carolina’s elections,” Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina NAACP, told reporters on Wednesday. “The new electronic system converts voters’ votes and ballots into undecipherable barcodes, forcing voters to cast a vote they cannot read.” Spearman urged the North Carolina counties using the machines to immediately “move to hand-marked paper ballots to restore voters’ trust in the integrity of our elections.”
Texas: Bexar County GOP Chair, Former Constable Question Election Integrity | Jackie Wang/Rivard Report
Cynthia Brehm, who heads Bexar County’s Republican Party, criticized the Bexar County Elections Department’s handling of the March primary election and demanded that the election be redone at a county commissioners meeting Tuesday. “Not a recount,” Brehm said. “Throw it out. Bexar County citizens deserve better than a system that is faulty and flawed.” Brehm, who will face candidate John Austin in a May runoff election for her second term as party chair, pointed to the software issues that caused a delay in early voting result publication. “I can tell you right now – I’ve already talked to the people above me that I don’t have the confidence in this election at all,” Brehm told reporters Tuesday. “And my constituents don’t trust it.” Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said the comments made by Brehm and Michelle Barrientes Vela, a former constable and Democratic sheriff candidate, were “misinformation.” “I stand behind this election,” Callanen said.
A Dallas County recount turned up 9,149 ballots that were missed on Super Tuesday, but the new votes did not affect the outcome of any race. Through the recount — which was prompted by vote discrepancies discovered last week — county election officials found 6,818 votes Wednesday that were not included in their initial tally of votes in the March 3 Democratic primary and 2,331 votes that were left off the results of the Republican primary. More than 329,000 votes were cast in Dallas County during early voting and on election day. The county is still processing mail-in ballots and provisional votes. A state district judge ordered the recount Tuesday at the request of Dallas County elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole. The county asked to redo its vote count after discovering it missed ballots from 44 tabulating machines used on election day. Dallas County officials realized they were missing votes when they were unable to reconcile the count of voters who checked in at some polling places and the number of votes recorded.
The Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office this week announced that a final contract was awarded to Election Systems & Software (ES&S) for the purchase of election equipment for all 23 Wyoming counties. The new equipment will be in place for the 2020 Election. “Wyoming’s elections are held with integrity from beginning to end, and Election Day 2020 will be no different. After a diligent and thorough evaluation process, made possible thanks to an appropriation from the legislature in 2019, Wyoming has signed a contract, formed a new partnership and purchased the most secure and up-to-date voting equipment on the market,” said Secretary of State Edward Buchanan. Locally, not much will change. County Clerk Sherry Daigle told Buckrail Teton County has been ahead of the curve for years now. “We’re pretty excited it is going to them. We’ve been using their updated system for four years now and, really, since the ‘80s when we were using BRC’s punchcard ballot machines, and then ES&S bought out BRC in the ‘90s.
Wyoming: Secretary of State’s Office Awards Contract for Election Equipment to ES&S | The Cheyenne Post
Today the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office announces that a final contract has been awarded to Election Systems & Software (ES&S) for the purchase of election equipment for all 23 Wyoming counties. New equipment will be in place for the 2020 Election. “Wyoming’s elections are held with integrity from beginning to end, and Election Day 2020 will be no different. After a diligent and thorough evaluation process, made possible thanks to an appropriation from the legislature in 2019, Wyoming has signed a contract, formed a new partnership and purchased the most secure and up-to-date voting equipment on the market.” said Secretary of State Edward Buchanan. A working group established by the Secretary of State’s Office chose ES&S after a competitive bidding process. The group included five current county clerks, one former county clerk and four staff members from the Secretary of State’s Office. “Security measures on election equipment have certainly advanced in the 15 years since the State of Wyoming last purchased equipment. Wyoming’s elections will benefit from these security advancements. Each ballot will be printed on paper – always creating an audit trail that can be used to confirm the accuracy of every single vote. Voting systems are air-gapped and will never connect to the internet,” said State Election Director Kai Schon. “ES&S has implemented the best security measures and their systems have been tried and tested over years of successful elections in Wyoming.”
Dallas County’s request for a recount of last week’s election after it discovered a discrepancy between the number of voters who signed in and the actual ballots counted will be heard by a district court judge on Tuesday. The county’s election chief, Toni Pippins-Poole, filed a request to reopen the election late Friday after ballots from 44 vote tabulating machines were not included in the final tally that officials had submitted, according to court papers. Without knowing how many votes are at issue, it’s unclear whether the outcomes of any races will change. State law stipulates that ballots must be counted continuously after the polls close. Once officials have stopped tallying votes, the election is considered completed. Even though the results are unofficial until county commissioners approve them, a judge must order any additional ballot counting. Judge Emily G. Tobolowsky will consider the recount request. Between the two parties, more than 317,000 ballots — 233,014 Democratic and 83,997 Republican — were counted last week, according to unofficial results on Dallas County’s election website. Democratic turnout, in particular, nearly hit a record — second only to 2008 when 298,612 Democrats voted.
Texas: Dallas County asks for Super Tuesday recount after discovering it missed some ballots | Alexa Ura/The Texas Tribune
Dallas County officials are seeking a recount of the March 3 primary results after discovering that an unknown number of ballots were not initially counted. In a petition filed late Friday in state district court, Dallas County election administrator Toni Pippins-Poole said her office has discovered that ballots from 44 tabulating machines were not accounted for in the election results reported by the county on Super Tuesday. It’s unclear how many ballots were missing from the county’s tally of votes. The issue turned up after county officials were unable to reconcile the number of voters who checked in to cast ballots at some polling places and the number of ballots received from those sites. The tally of ballots had been compiled from flash drives that were turned in to the county, and the county initially believed it had received all ballots from the 454 vote centers, Pippins-Poole said in an affidavit filed with the court. “However, it was later determined that there are ballots from 44 of the precinct scanner and tabulator machines that are unaccounted for,” Pippins-Poole said. She could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.
Texas: Bexar Elections Official: Software Issue Will Be Resolved by November | Iris Dimmick/Rivard Report
Bexar County wasn’t the only county in Texas that experienced difficulties reporting election results on Super Tuesday, but it was one of the last large counties to start doing so. While software issues caused a delay in reporting vote tallies Tuesday night, one problem election officials encountered early on election day was fixed with a simple flip of a switch. Backup generators kicked on at the Copernicus Community Center voting site to power printers, laptops, and voting machines during the early hours of Tuesday. Utility crews and facility staff investigated the problem; they couldn’t figure it out at first, said Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen. “There [were] no power issues. … Everything was plugged in, it looked great,” Callanen said. “Well, nobody had turned the surge protector on. … They had not looked at the little light at the bottom.” Power was restored to the far East Side voting site by 2 p.m., she said. Callenen called a press conference Wednesday morning to outline the factors that led to Bexar County’s “rough morning” and slow, cumbersome posting of voting results on Tuesday night. In short, a record-breaking number of voters resulted in technical issues.
North Carolina: Super Tuesday vote counting problems in Warren County North Carolina | Will Doran/Raleigh News & Observer
Officials in a North Carolina county accidentally inflated the votes in one Super Tuesday primary election, but fixed the problem on Thursday. Tuesday’s election results are still unofficial everywhere in the state, and officials at the N.C. State Board of Elections will do audits all around the state regardless of whether voting results appear wrong. In one rural area, however, they have already found an issue and say it was due to human error. “It’s very important to note that the results on the election night reporting system are unofficial and this is ongoing,” Pat Gannon, a spokesman for the elections board, said in an interview Thursday morning. Warren County, a small community north of Raleigh on the Virginia border, has only 41 registered Libertarian voters. But on Tuesday the county reported more than 800 votes cast in the Libertarian presidential race.
Texas: Harris County’s cascade of election day fumbles disproportionately affected communities of color | Alexa Uren/The Texas Tribune
From the sunlit atrium of the science building on campus, former Vice President Joe Biden asked Texas Southern University for an assist. It was election day eve, and Biden was visiting the university just days after black voters in South Carolina had forcefully revived his presidential bid. That Biden had chosen to spend precious hours at Texas Southern ahead of Super Tuesday seemed to signal he hoped to make the historically black college and the community it represented a nexus between his last pivotal win and the next crucial test of his campaign. “Tomorrow, Texas is going to speak,” Biden said to a raucous throng of supporters surrounding him. “I think we’re going to do well here in Texas with the help of all of you. I’m asking you for your vote. I’m asking you for your support because I’ve got to earn it.
Indiana: Commissioners won’t vote on Madison County vote center proposal | Ken de la Bastide/The Herald Bulletin
A lack of a quorum at a called special meeting of the Madison County Commissioners has stopped the attempt to implement vote centers in the county. Commissioner John Richwine called the special meeting for Monday evening to discuss vote centers, but late in the day County Attorney Jonathan Hughes sent out an email stating because of prior commitments there would not be a quorum. Richwine said he was going to attend the meeting and allow anyone to speak on becoming a vote center county. Commissioners Kelly Gaskill and Mike Phipps notified Hughes they would not be in attendance. Both were at the Madison County Government Center, but didn’t attend an Election Board meeting earlier Monday.
Voting Blogs: Counties in North Carolina Gamble on New Voting Machines | Margaret Lowry/State of Elections
Super Tuesday is tomorrow and voters in North Carolina might use new voting machines. Since the 2018 election, several counties in North Carolina have had to make a critical decision for their voters–what voting machines should they purchase? A shortened timetable and heightened concern about election security have made for a contentious process. A 2013 bill required all voting systems in the state to produce a paper ballot, and set a schedule to decertify existing machines that did not meet the requirement. Originally, the bill set the decertification date as January 1, 2018, but subsequent legislation in 2015 and 2018 pushed the deadline to December 1, 2019. About one-third of the counties in North Carolina have Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting systems that will need to be replaced by the decertification date. DREs are paperless. Voters use a touchscreen to select their choice, and the machine then stores and tabulates that choice electronically.
South Carolina: Doublecheck that ballot: Controversial voting machines make their primary debut in South Carolina | Eric Geller/Politico
While the paper-based machines are supposed to make the vote more resistant to digital tampering, they also introduce new uncertainty into an election already marked by widespread warnings that Russia is determined to interfere in yet another U.S. presidential race. Many South Carolina voters and precinct workers will be encountering the new machines for the first time — less than four weeks after the Democrats’ bungled Iowa caucus showed the pitfalls of introducing new technology into a high-stakes election. The technology behind the ballot-printing touchscreen machines has also raised hackles among cyber researchers, election security advocates and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. They say the machines may be more secure than the totally paperless systems still used in 11 states — but they’re not as safe as paper ballots that voters mark by hand. South Carolina lawmakers decided in June to buy a model called ExpressVote from the country’s largest election technology company, Election Systems & Software. Counties in at least seven states — Florida, Indiana, Kansas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas — have also replaced their paperless machines with the ExpressVote since 2018, according to a POLITICO survey. Delaware bought another model from ES&S, called the ExpressVote XL, and Georgia has purchased similar machines from another manufacturer.
South Carolina: Election officials confident the primary will go smoothly. Here’s what they’re up against. | Joseph Marks/The Washington Post
South Carolina election officials are confident their first-in-the-South primary will go smoothly on Saturday — despite looming threats of Russian hacking, misinformation, or an Iowa caucus-style tech failure. “We feel as confident as election officials can feel on the eve of a statewide election with the eyes of the world upon us,” Chris Whitmire, the State Election Commission’s director of public information, told me. That may sound like tempting fate after Iowa’s technical debacle delayed results for days and undermined confidence in the vote, and Nevada’s caucus was dogged by security concerns. But Whitmire says the confidence is justified — largely because the primary is being run by professional election officials at the state and county level, unlike the caucuses that were run by those states’ Democratic parties. “After Iowa, there were a lot of questions about is that going to happen [here]? And, if not, why not? Well, we do this every week. It’s what we do,” he said.
When primary voters go to the polls in South Carolina on Saturday, they’ll be the first in the nation to use all-new voting equipment. It’s one of about a dozen states replacing all or most of their voting machines this year, in part due to security concerns after Russian interference in the 2016 election. South Carolina officials are eager to emphasize the reliability of their state’s equipment following the Iowa caucus debacle, where a flawed app delayed the reporting of accurate results for weeks. The state’s old voting machines relied on touchscreen technology that didn’t leave a paper trail that could be audited after the election. The new machines will mark a paper ballot with a barcode and the selected candidate’s names. The ballots then get inserted into a scanner for counting. Chris Whitmire of the state’s Election Commission showed voters earlier this week how to use the new equipment, part of an effort to educate them about changes to the voting process ahead of the primary. “When we say we have a paper record of the voters’ voted ballot at the end of the day, they like that and that makes them feel more confident in the integrity of the election and about the security of the election and it does us, too,” said Whitmire.