Could a future with voting help allay the weighing concerns about whether all ballots are counted properly?
(TNS) — HIGH POINT, N.C. — Could going back to the future with voting help allay the concerns about whether all ballots are counted properly?
An overriding issue with election officials locally, statewide and across the nation is how to make sure no bad actors tamper with electronic-based voting machines on election day or during early voting. The issue has been heightened in the wake of the 2016 presidential election in which Russian hackers attempted to gain entry into state and local board of elections databases.
So could one path to securing the sanctity of the vote involve returning to mechanical voting machines used a generation ago that didn’t have electronic components or software? One of the most common ways to vote used to mean pulling a small lever to pick a candidate and having your votes recorded when you pulled the handle to open the curtain and leave the voting booth.
Local and state election officials say that not only would a return to old-fashioned voting machines not be viable, but it wouldn’t resolve the issue of tampering with ballots.
“I don’t think it’s feasible,” said Davidson County Board of Elections Director Ruth Huneycutt about returning to mechanical voting machines.
Huneycutt’s career as a voting official spans more than 40 years, meaning she’s witnessed first-hand the evolution of voting machines into the electronic era.
Huneycutt, along with other state and local election officials interviewed by The High Point Enterprise, emphasize that electronic voting machines aren’t connected to the Internet. So there’s no way for someone with ill intent to hack into the machines remotely.
“They are individually set up. If a machine is set up correctly, there’s no way there’s going to be anything wrong with it,” Huneycutt said.
Randolph County Elections Director Melissa Johnson said modern, electronic voting machines are more accurate than old-fashioned mechanical ones. And mechanical voting machines still could be tampered with by someone looking to hijack election results.
“Machines back then had their own challenges, and that’s why they were decertified by federal elections officials,” she said. “Our machines now have several safeguards, like security tabs and tags so we know no one has tampered with it.”
Guilford County Board of Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said the thought of returning to old-fashioned voting machines may have some lure as a romantic notion about the past, but there’s solid reasons why electronic machines are used now.
“Ballots where you punch a hole or punch a card have their own issues. There is no perfect system,” he said, adding that modern electronic machines offer the best chance to preserve the accuracy of a vote tally.
In North Carolina, electronic voting machines have a series of safeguards, including a paper audit of voting results in the rare case where there’s an issue with the machine’s tabulation of votes.
One irony of the current concerns over the security of electronic voting machines is that they were encouraged to be used more than 15 years ago after a debacle with an old-fashioned form of voting.
In the 2000 presidential election between Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic Vice President Al Gore, the fate of the outcome hinged on disputed ballots in Florida and how punches to paper ballot forms by voters were interpreted. The dispute only ended when the U.S. Supreme Court intervened a month after the election and issued a ruling that prompted Gore to concede.
In the wake of the 2000 presidential race, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act to encourage states and communities to start using electronic-based voting machines that were seen as more reliable. At the time, the practice of hacking wasn’t as pervasive; so there wasn’t as much attention to the possible threats to electronic machines.
Now election officials in North Carolina and across the United States are trying to ensure that electronic voting machines and voter databases in electronic records are guarded from those who mean mischief.
“We do not wish to go back to the days of ‘hanging chads,’” said Patrick Gannon, public information officer for the Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement in Raleigh.
Gannon’s reference to “hanging chads” stems from the slivers of paper that were attached to punched ballots in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. The “hanging chads” confounded Sunshine State election officials as they reviewed whether to count paper-based ballots 18 years ago.
The state of North Carolina is updating its voting machines, with new standards set to be implemented by the fall of next year.
“The state board is in the middle of the process to potentially certify several new voting systems, and each system used in North Carolina counties would have to meet the certification requirements,” Gannon told The Enterprise.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission notified the state elections board “that it would receive nearly $10.4 million in Help America Vote Act funds to enhance election technology and make election security improvements,” Gannon said.
©2018 The High Point Enterprise (High Point, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.