Not Just Texas: The Problem with American Voting
Early voters in five counties within the state of Texas reported throughout the month of October that their touch-screen voting machines had malfunctioned during the process of casting their ballots. Voters claimed they attempted to choose an option on the machines in which they could vote straight-ticket, but the machines randomly switched certain choices to the other party.
Texas is currently facing a monumental Senate race between Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke and Republican incumbent Senator Ted Cruz. The candidates are in a tight race, making the magnitude of the voting machine errors all the more critical.
Voters in Guilford County, North Carolina also notified officials that their voting machines were not accurately recording their choices. The county elections director responded that the machines were last updated around twelve years ago.
Early voters are also facing similar problems with electronic voting machines in Georgia. Some claimed the machines would select Republican candidate Brian Kemp when they tried to vote for Stacey Abrams, his Democratic opponent, in the Georgia gubernatorial race. Others reported that the machines would count the ballots before they finished voting.
As a result, the NAACP Georgia State Conference filed complaints against the state for possible discrimination towards black voters and Abrams, who would become the first black governor of Georgia if she wins the race. These came on the heels of a lawsuit lodged at Kemp by the organization for reportedly withholding thousands of voter registration applications, primarily those submitted by African Americans.
Kemp is also the current Secretary of State of Georgia and thus has a certain degree of authority over the election process. When the state faced scrutiny over its voting machines potentially being hacked, Kemp disregarded any concerns, claiming that the machines were safe and paper ballots were unnecessary.
Investigations of the complaints in Georgia by election officials have not been successful in corroborating the claims, but there is still a concern over the safety of voting machines. Georgia uses the AccuVote TS (over a decade old), which leaves no paper trail and therefore no way to ensure that votes are accurately reflected properly.
The Hart InterCivic eSlate machines responsible for the alleged malfunctions in Texas are over 15 years old and were last certified in 2009. The manufacturer attributes any errors to this fact; the company even released a statement standing by its machines and thanking the GOP-appointed officials overseeing the election process for also supporting the system’s validity.
Researchers from Rice University found Hart’s machines to be some of the worst in the country in terms of usability.
While electronic voting machines do offer some benefits paper ballots simply cannot, the initial logic that these machines increase efficiency and reduce fraud (as many were adopted following the great “hanging chad” controversy in the 2000 presidential election) is no longer valid.
Cybersecurity is a growing concern especially following the 2016 elections, as well as the capabilities of voting machines to succumb to defects as a result of aging technology. 41 out of 50 states currently employ voting machines that are around a decade or older.
The security of the foundations of our democracy should not be questionable, nor (and perhaps more disturbingly) should it be a partisan issue. Republicans like Brian Kemp and Rolando Pablos, the Secretary of State for Texas vouching for Hart machines, point to a harrowing trend in today’s political system. It seems that ensuring high voter turnout and efficient, credible voting methods is a left-wing notion.
Switching to optical scan voting machines or back to paper ballots with increased measures to control for human error would solve many of the credibility problems with American voting today. Although many politicians fear the cost of such changes, the core of American democracy being at stake should be plenty motivation to factor these costs into local, state, and even federal budgets if needed.
It is not enough for election officials, no matter their party, to urge voters to double and triple-check their voting ballots in order to quell public unease. The government has a responsibility assigned under this fundamental tenet of democracy to ensure that voting is as effective, transparent, and straightforward as possible. With already low levels of voter turnout, there cannot be any sense of complacency in the face of decreasing confidence in American democratic practices like voting.