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OPED: It's time to safeguard our elections
An oversight in York County on the eve of last November’s Election Day questioned the rightful winner of the election, but thankfully the potential damage stopped there. Still, the discovery of a technical error — one that allowed voters to cast multiple votes for a candidate in races with cross-filed candidates — risked the integrity of the election. This could’ve been easily preventable with paper ballots.
Most Pennsylvania voters are using paperless electronic voting machines to cast their ballot. The problem is that these outdated machines — also known as direct recording electronic (DRE) systems —are unverifiable. DREs, or voting machines without paper ballot back-up, have been the source of controversy for years because of their inability to allow anyone to verify the results. Instilling confidence in election outcomes can only occur by replacing these systems with newer ones that provide a software independent record of voter intent and implementing statistically meaningful audits of those records.
We know there was foreign interference during the 2016 election cycle, and that similar acts to undermine faith in America’s democratic systems are a possibility. Security experts agree that safeguarding and protecting election systems is important and that no system is completely secure. That’s why security experts recommend ensuring that all computer-based systems, including voting machines are resilient, that is, they have the ability to identify a problem and recover from it. Replacing the outdated voting systems with resilient machines is imperative before the 2018 elections because, for more than 80 percent of Pennsylvania voters in 50 counties, no one has any way of knowing whether the paperless voting machines correctly captured voter intent.
Pennsylvania doesn’t have to look far to see how this would work. Virginia decertified its remaining DRE systems in September after they were found to be too insecure. These now-decertified systems include ones that are used in 44 Pennsylvania counties. Virginia’s move to decertify all of its paperless voting machines was a critical step toward securing its elections and Pennsylvania can also take steps to secure elections and restore voters’ faith that their votes will be counted as cast.
In a hearing this week, the Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee will consider the report from the Advisory Committee on Voting Technology to the Joint State Government Commission. The Advisory Committee recommends amending the Pennsylvania Election Code to require a voter-verifiable paper record in all voting machines. The Committee included substantial representation from county election officials and county commissioners.
The state can no longer ignore these issues and must take steps to replace its aging voting systems as soon as possible. States began widely using electronic voting machines in the early 2000s, but the lifespan of these machines is estimated at only 10 to 15 years. Replacing them also requires implementing the best practice of requiring trustworthy evidence of voter intent. This is done by using voter marked paper ballots together with a method of checking the paper records to makes sure that the electronic vote tallies are correct. Seventeen Pennsylvania counties already use voter-marked paper ballots as their primary voting method, but it needs to become statewide.
York County was not one of those counties. If it had been, the ballot error would have been caught because York County’s paper absentee ballots did not have the same error. The only way to safeguard our elections is through a system with voter-marked paper ballots. It is essential that Pennsylvania’s voting systems are resilient going into the 2018 election.
— Marian K. Schneider, a Pennsylvania resident, is the president of Verified Voting, the leading national organization focused solely on making our voting technology secure.