Leading Manufacturer Reverses Its Position on Paperless Voting Machines
Monday, June 17, 2019
A leading manufacturer of electronic voting machines has reversed its position on election security. Tom Burt, the CEO of Election Systems & Software (ES&S), said his company will no longer sell paperless voting machines. Mr Burt wrote in Roll Call:
"... we must have physical paper records of votes. Our company, Election Systems & Software, the nation’s leading elections equipment provider, recently decided it will no longer sell paperless voting machines as the primary voting device in a jurisdiction. That’s because it is difficult to perform a meaningful audit without a paper record of each voter’s selections. Mandating the use of a physical paper record sets the stage for all jurisdictions to perform statistically valid post-election audits."
A 2017 study by researchers found 11 states where the majority of voters use paperless voting machines that store votes electronically -- without printed ballots or other paper-based backups to double-check the balloting. A report in March, 2018 by the Brennan Center For Justice found little progress since 2016 to replace old, vulnerable voting machines in the United States.
In his comments, Burt called upon Congress to act to improve the testing of voting machines. Burt also cited the challenges. First:
"There are about 10,000 jurisdictions in America that manage nearly 117,000 polling locations and utilize more than 560,000 voting machines (manufactured by multiple suppliers) on Election Day. That’s what you call a highly distributed and differentiated infrastructure..."
Second, jurisdictions have varying financial resources. Besides testing, it will cost money to replace obsolete and paperless voting machines. TechCrunch provided important context to Burt's comments:
"Senator Ron Wyden introduced a bill a year ago that would mandate voter-verified paper ballots for all election machines... Burt’s remarks are a sharp turnaround from the company’s position just a year ago, in which the election systems maker drew ire from the security community for denouncing vulnerabilities found by hackers at the annual Defcon conference. Security researchers at the conference’s Voting Village found a security flaw in an old but widely used voting machine in dozens of states. Their findings prompted a response by senior lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee..."
So, the change in position by ES&S is a small start (and arguably late). What matters more will be action by ES&S and other voting-machine makers; and action by Congress.
Since a democracy relies upon elections, voting machine upgrades and testing could be considered an infrastructure issue. Both Congress and voting machine makers need to do their jobs. What are your opinions?
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