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Voting Technologies By County Across The United States

State and local governments across the United States use a variety of voting technologies. Chances are, you voted on Tuesday using one of two dominant technologies: optical-scan ballots or direct-recording electronic (DRE) devices. Optical-scan ballots are paper ballots where voters fill in bubbles or other machine-readable marks. DRE devices include touch-screen devices that store votes in computer memory.

The Pew Research Center analyzed data from the Verified Voting Foundation, a nongovernmental organization, and found that almost:

"... half of registered voters (47%) live in jurisdictions that use only optical-scan as their standard voting system, and about 28% live in DRE-only jurisdictions... Another 19% of registered voters live in jurisdictions where both optical-scan and DRE systems are in use... Around 5% of registered voters live in places that conduct elections entirely by mail – the states of Colorado, Oregon and Washington, more than half of the counties in North Dakota, 10 counties in Utah and two in California. And in more than 1,800 small counties, cities and towns – mostly in New England, the Midwest and the inter-mountain West – more than a million voters still use paper ballots that are counted by hand."

Previously, voting systems nationwide used punch-card devices and "lever machines" which were slowly replaced since 1980 by optical-scan and DRE devices. You may remember voting with one of the old-style lever machines, a self-contained voting booth where voters flips switches for candidates and then pulled a large lever to record their votes:

"Punch cards hung on throughout the 1990s but gradually lost ground to optical-scan and electronic systems – a decline that accelerated sharply after the 2000 Florida election recount debacle that brought the term “hanging chad” to brief prominence. But as punch cards faded away (the last two jurisdictions to use them, Franklin and Shoshone counties in Idaho, abandoned them after the 2014 elections), some voters became concerned that fully electronic voting would not generate any “paper trail” for future recounts. According to Verified Voting, of the 53,608 jurisdictions that use DRE equipment as their major voting method, almost three-quarters use systems that don’t create paper receipts or other hard-copy records of voters’ choices."

In August of this year, Wired reported about the state of security of the DRE devices:

"What people may not remember is the resulting Help America Vote Act (HAVA), passed in 2002, which among other objectives worked to phase out the use of the punchcard voting systems that had caused millions of ballots to be tossed. In many cases, those dated machines were replaced with electronic voting systems. The intentions were pure. The consequences were a technological train wreck.

“People weren’t thinking about voting system security or all the additional challenges that come with electronic voting systems,” says the Brennan Center’s Lawrence Norden. “Moving to electronic voting systems solved a lot of problems, but created a lot of new ones.”

The list of those problems is what you’d expect from any computer or, more specifically, any computer that’s a decade or older. Most of these machines are running Windows XP, for which Microsoft hasn’t released a security patch since April 2014. Though there’s no evidence of direct voting machine interference to date, researchers have demonstrated that many of them are susceptible to malware or, equally if not more alarming, a well-timed denial of service attack."

Experts have said that, besides better built and more secure DREs, post-election auditing -- checking vote totals against paper ballots -- is the best way to ensure accurate vote totals. Reportedly, more than half of states perform post-election audits.

So, it seems appropriate for citizens living in counties that use antiquated DREs, or that don't perform post-election audits, to contact their elected representatives and demand improvements. Good entities to contact are the elections departments in your city, or the Secretary in your state. Find your state in this list. Below is an image of voting technologies by county:

Pew Research Voting technologies by county in the United States. Click to view larger version


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Chanson de Roland

One of the greatest and most sinister dangers of DRE (direct-recording electronic polling devices) is that they can be interfered with to fraudulently alter votes in ways that can't later be discovered by an audit, when there is no paper ballot or printout that corresponds to the vote cast. Quite a few years ago, when the vulnerability of DRE systems to fraud in polling votes came to public notice, senior computer scientist faculty at Princeton John Hopkins universities et al. demonstrated beyond peradventure that with not much more sophistication than would be common in a first-year graduate student in computer science, a person could design software that would fraudulently alter the outcome of an election, as stored in DRE computer memory, and then erase itself, leaving no trace, much less evidence of the fraud. These professors further determined and opined that the foregoing was an inherent flaw of any DRE system, which would be best remedied by eliminating them in favor paper ballots which would be counted by high-speed optical scanners or, at the very least, DRE systems that printed out a paper report of the vote, which the voter could inspect while still in the process of voting and challenge, if he found it inaccurate, and which, if not so challenged, would then be securely retained by election officials so as to provide a paper audit trail.

Both of these means, either the preferable optical-scan paper ballot or DRE with a faithful and accurate printout of each vote, would provide a paper audit trail that could be used, when a recount is permitted or required, to provide a paper audit trail that would be independent of computer memory, which is the only way to secure polling against electronic fraud, which can easily be designed so that it is undetectable.

Recognizing the danger of polling fraud occasioned by DRE systems, Congress was to fund replacing DREs with either high-speed optical scan ballots or with at least DREs that would provide a printout of a voter’s vote for him to inspect and challenge if necessary. Congress began and them inexplicably and irresponsibly stopped funding replacing DRE systems, whose polling could not be confirmed with a paper audit trail. Congress must resume the funding of replacing of DRE that don’t provide a paper audit trail, and it must do so immediately, and we must urge it to do so with our votes, our petitions, and, if necessary, our protest.

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