This November, Texas voters may be less surprised by what’s on their ballots than by what their ballots look like. Dozens of counties across the state—including Collin, Dallas, and Tarrant—are rolling out brand-new, “hybrid” voting systems that combine paper-based and electronic balloting. With hybrid systems, voters use an electronic touch screen to mark paper ballots, which are then counted using a separate tabulating machine. Voters can confirm their selections on paper before scanning their ballots for electronic counting, and election officials have a paper record to use for audits and recounts. Electronic ballot-marking eliminates stray marks and over-votes (marking more than one choice in a race) that can make it difficult or impossible to interpret a voter’s intent. The systems include multiple security features and are not connected to the internet. “Russia cannot tie into this voting equipment,” Collin County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet said at a training class for election workers last week, adding that the rollout has been very smooth during early voting.
For years, election security experts have assured us that, if properly implemented, paper ballots and routine manual audits can catch electronic vote tally manipulation. Unfortunately, there is no universal definition of “paper ballot,” which has enabled vendors and their surrogates to characterize machine-marked paper printouts from hackable ballot marking devices (BMDs) as “paper ballots.” Unlike hand-marked paper ballots, voters must print and inspect these machine-marked “paper ballots” to try to detect any fraudulent or erroneous votes that might have been marked by the BMD. The machine-marked ballot is then counted on a separate scanner.
Most independent cybersecurity election experts caution against putting these insecure BMDs between voters and their ballots and instead recommend hand-marked paper ballots as a primary voting system (reserving BMDs only for those who are unable to hand mark their ballots). But vendors and many election officials haven’t listened and are now pushing even more controversial “hybrid” systems that combine both a BMD and a scanner into a single unit. These too are now sold for use as a primary voting system.
Unlike hand-marked paper ballots counted on scanners and regular non-hybrid BMDs, these new hybrid systems can add fake votes to the machine-marked “paper ballot” after it’s been cast, experts warn. Any manual audit based on such fraudulent “paper ballots” would falsely approve an illegitimate electronic outcome. According to experts, the hybrid voting systems with this alarming capability include the ExpressVote hybrid by Election Systems & Software, LLC (ES&S), the ExpressVote XL hybrid by ES&S, and the Image Cast Evolution hybrid by Dominion Voting.