Use a touch screen to vote? Your civil rights are being violated
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Use a touch screen to vote? Your civil rights are being violated

Posted November 01, 2016 06:00 AM by Rob Eno empty poll center
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Casting your ballot via an electronic machine that lacks a paper trail (commonly referred to as “touch screen voting”) is a violation of your civil right to have your intent counted in an election. There are 15 states that, at least in part, allow voting on touchscreen devices without a paper trail that confirms the voter’s intention. That makes a true recount virtually impossible, and raises serious questions about hacking, or the possibility of improperly calibrated machines leading to a skewed result. Some state legislatures have taken measures to abolish touch screen voting in favor of paper ballots. All states, however, should do so; The future of American’s faith in elections are at stake.

According to Ballotpedia, fifteen states employ direct recording (touch screen) voting machines that do not have a paper trail:

  • 10 states have some jurisdictions that use voting machines with no paper trail:
    • Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The Florida secretary of state’s office told Conservative Review that only those asking to vote on ADA compliant machines are allowed to vote on touchscreens. The rest of the state uses paper ballots.
  • Five states have touch screen-only voting equipment:
    • Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, and South Carolina

Conservative Review reached out to election officials in these 15 states to find out how those states conducted recounts, and whether or not voters were entitled to request a paper ballot. Only a handful of those officials responded.

Before going into those responses, there are two main problems with touchscreen electronic voting with no paper trail: miscounted votes, and a civil rights violation during recounts where the intent of the voter cannot be determined.

There have been numerous reports this election cycle of touchscreen voting devices changing votes. That includes Illinois, where the vote switching was allegedly caught on video. Votes at the state level, and in a U.S. House of Representative race, were apparently switched to Democrat when the voter tried to select a Republican.

Meanwhile, in Chambers County, Texas, election officials last week suspended voting by machine until a software update could be deployed. The machines had been recording votes improperly. 

Without a paper record of each vote, it is virtually impossible to conduct a meaningful recount in a close election. There is a longstanding test that the “intent of the voter” must be taken into account during a manual recount of votes. This was specifically referenced in the 2000 presidential election in Florida, when “hanging chads” became a household word. In some instances, even “dimpled chads” were counted.  A sufficiently large depression was seen for a vote in a punch-card, and the vote would be counted for that candidate.

I have been involved in multiple recounts at the municipal level in elections in Massachusetts. I was a campaign observer, and the voter intent standard was to be counted there as well. If, for instance, a person circled a candidate’s name, instead of filling in an oval, the vote would go to that candidate based on the voter’s intent.

It is a civil right that your vote be counted as you intended it to be counted. Without a paper record of your vote, that is not possible. For that reason alone states that have electronic voting should, at a minimum, allow you to cast a vote by paper ballot if you request to do so. But not all states do.

Brad King, a spokesman for the Indiana Secretary of State, told CR that if paper ballots are available in a jurisdiction that has a Direct Recording Electronic system (DRE),a voter may request a paper ballot. However, the jurisdiction is not required to have those paper ballots on hand, so they “may not have the paper ballot stock available to make this request.” In many other states with voting machines, you must request a vote-by-mail ballot in order to vote by paper.

In many states with voting machines that do not produce a paper trail of each individual voter’s choice, the only evidence available for recounts is the paper tape that is printed with the aggregate vote totals at the end of the night. In Indiana, as Brad King told CR, “An electronic voting system is required by Indiana law to maintain an image of each individual ballot which is cast on the system, and to use a method of “storage location scrambling” so that the image of the ballot cast by the first voter using the system is not the first image to appear on a printout of the images.”

Obviously Indiana's process is better than having no record at all, but the state has no way to record the voter's intent, i.e. where the voter placed his or her finger on the screen. If a machine error changed a vote, that the voter did not catch, there is no way for the voter's intent to be known during a recount.

Some states, including Virginia, have taken measures to move away from electronic touch screen voting. Peter Dena, the spokesman for the Virginia Department of General Services, told Conservative Review that the Virginia legislature has passed legislation banning the use of DRE machines starting in July of 2020 — in time for the next presidential election. The bill was signed into law by the governor on March 23, 2016.

More states should follow Virginia’s lead and go back to paper ballots. Until then, there is ample reason to doubt the integrity of elections in the states that use touch screen voting machines.

Robert Eno is the director of research for Conservative Review. He is a conservative from deep blue Massachusetts but now lives in Greenville, SC. If you see something you’d like him to cover, tweet him @robeno.