Well before most people seriously imagined the Russians might attempt to interfere with U.S. elections, the N.C. General Assembly passed a law requiring that all voting machines used in the 2020 election and beyond generate a paper record showing how votes were cast.
The legislature took this action in 2013 because it recognized security weaknesses in touchscreen voting machines, which provide no paper record of how ballots were cast. This makes the touchscreen systems more vulnerable to outside interference than voting systems with paper ballots.
Now, here we are in the summer of 2019 and about one-third of North Carolina’s counties still have these touchscreen-only voting systems that don’t meet the paper ballot requirement enacted in 2013.
Mecklenburg and Guilford, two of the state’s most heavily populated counties, are among those still using the touchscreen systems that don’t meet requirements of the law.
Wilkes is among counties in the state that comply with the law by using “optical scan” paper ballots, in which voters make their choice by coloring in a bubble with a pencil.
Wilkes County has had this system since the late 1990s and just invested in an updated version with new voting machines.
It’s frustrating that so much time has passed and the issue still isn’t resolved statewide, but it’s not surprising when you consider other election problems that have arisen in North Carolina.
As of late last week, the State Board of Elections was split 2-2 on whether to approve touchscreen voting machines that generate paper ballots with a barcode read by an electronic tabulator or instead in voting machines that generate paper ballots with “human-readable marks” such as filled-in bubbles.
The five-member board normally wouldn’t be deadlocked, but its chairman, Democrat Bob Cordle, resigned on July 30 while under criticism for making an offensive joke during a meeting of elections officials convened for a state conference on July 29.
The two Republicans on the board prefer allowing the barcode option because it would help counties wanting to use touchscreen systems they already have move faster to meet requirements of the law. They cited concerns about further delays with the other option in the face of 2020 elections drawing near.
The remaining two Democrats on the board prefer requiring machines with paper ballots that have “human-readable marks.” They are concerned about the fact that the barcodes can’t be read by voters, thus losing this verification and lessening voter confidence.
The way the board votes will affect election equipment used in North Carolina for years to come, so the matter merits especially close consideration due to foreign security threats.
The elections board decided to meet again on Aug. 23 to debate and possibly vote on the issue. By then, it’s likely Gov. Roy Cooper will have appointed a fifth member to replace Cordle.