New voting machines could make elections more secure

New voting machines protected from hackers
Updated: May. 8, 2018 at 4:22 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - When voters in Mecklenburg County cast their ballot in Tuesday's primary elections, they used a touch screen voting machine that didn't create a paper ballot.

Instead, the machines ticked off a record of every move made on the screen on a long paper tape that is hard to audit if there's ultimately a question of how someone voted.

Starting in 2019, touch screens like the ones currently in use in Mecklenburg County and 22 other counties across North Carolina will be illegal. The legislature passed a bill in 2013 that requires voting to be done with paper ballots.

That's why 77 counties have switched back to using paper ballots. But even that method could be vulnerable to hackers. Until recently, some counties had the machines that scanned the ballots connected to the internet, essentially connecting the machines to the information superhighway that hackers take to break in and change things.

Despite that, elections officials say there is no evidence of direct interference in any election in North Carolina. And the touchscreen voting machines that will soon be outlawed are safe to use.

But new technology would be more secure.

That's the message from companies like ES&S, a firm that makes and sells voting machines and software.

They have a new device that allows voters to make their selections on a touch screen that then prints a paper ballot that is scanned and read by a separate machine.

None of the equipment is ever connected to the internet.

"There are a lot of concerns of hacking of voting machines and this and that from 2016 election," ES&S spokesman Mac Beeson said during a demonstration of the new machine for WBTV. "We want voters to feel very confident that their systems aren't connected to the internet, that there's no way anybody—whether it's Russia or any other country or any other bad entity—to access these machines."

Josh Lawson, General Counsel at the North Carolina State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement, said his agency is working to finalize a process that would allow new machines like the one being offered by ES&S to be used in the state.

"We're excited about some of the options North Carolinians are going to have," Lawson said.

Lawson also underscored the importance of using technology that allows for a paper record to be left behind in case of questions about how someone voted.

"The significance of a paper record is that you're able to hand-eye count it," Lawson explained. "So even if something went screwy with the software, we always have the backup of being able to look with human eyes at a piece of physical paper."

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