New Voting Technology Controversy States around the country are replacing aging voting equipment. New technology that's under consideration in Georgia has sparked a debate around security and accessibility.

New Voting Technology Controversy

New Voting Technology Controversy

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States around the country are replacing aging voting equipment. New technology that's under consideration in Georgia has sparked a debate around security and accessibility.


Millions of Americans will likely cast their ballots in 2020 using new technology. States have been working to update voting equipment since the 2016 election revealed security gaps, but as officials shop around, they are thinking about more than just security. From member station WABE in Atlanta, Johnny Kauffman reports on the hunt for a better voting system.

SCOTT TUCKER: And then I go on the back because it says to vote both sides of the ballot.

JOHNNY KAUFFMAN, BYLINE: Scott Tucker uses a black Sharpie to fill in bubbles on a paper ballot. He's with Dominion Voting Systems.

TUCKER: So once I'm complete with filling a ballot, I would take it to our precinct scanner, and I would just slide it into the scanner.

KAUFFMAN: The paper ballot drops into a black box just bigger than a mini-fridge. Companies like Dominion basically offer two options for voting with paper ballots - these hand-marked ones and...

TUCKER: So the ballot-marking device - there's two components of it.

KAUFFMAN: This time Tucker makes his selections on a 21-inch touchscreen computer - a ballot-marking device. Then it prints a normal piece of paper with a list of candidates. The voter is supposed to check that what's on the paper matches what they picked on the screen. Both of the options Tucker showed me are different than what's currently used in 14 states - voting machines that do not produce a paper ballot. Right now in these states, there is no paper backup to confirm election results if there's a malfunction or even possibly tampering.

WENKE LEE: I think voters are concerned that we have not done enough to secure our voting system.

KAUFFMAN: Wenke Lee is a cybersecurity professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. For him and other experts, a paper backup doesn't guarantee security. He says we can't be sure voters will check what they picked on the touchscreen matches what's on the paper printout.

LEE: Now, you're looking at this piece of paper that was not accurate in the first place, so you're not going to be able to catch any error.

KAUFFMAN: While Lee and other computer scientists say hand-marked paper ballots are the best choice, many election officials disagree. Cynthia Willingham works in Rockdale County, Ga.

CYNTHIA WILLINGHAM: I have no doubt that our voters of the state of Georgia will check their ballot. They will verify their ballot.

KAUFFMAN: There isn't research to prove this. Willingham says it will be relatively easy for states like Georgia to switch from one touchscreen voting system to another.

WILLINGHAM: Voters are used to technology, and just about every home has a tablet, whether it's an iPad or any other tablet.

KAUFFMAN: Advocates for people with disabilities also want ballot-marking devices. Michelle Bishop is with the National Disability Rights Network. She says those machines are more accessible. And to avoid Election Day confusion, Bishop thinks everyone should vote on the same system.

MICHELLE BISHOP: We are the only people who are being asked to take one for the team and risk our own ability to vote so that non-disabled people can feel more secure about their ballots.

KAUFFMAN: Georgia will likely be the largest state to update its voting equipment. Lawmakers are working on it right now even as the state is still dealing with questions about the accuracy of the 2018 election results. Republicans won the statewide contests and are generally in favor of ballot-marking devices, but Democrats allege widespread mismanagement, and they mostly want hand-marked paper ballots. Voters like Liz Troop, who have shown up at public hearings, agree.

LIZ TROOP: You can fight and fight for a candidate or cause, but if there's no accountability for elections, it doesn't really matter. And I keep coming back to that.

KAUFFMAN: So states choosing new voting technology are in a tough spot. Even though their picks might be better than the old equipment, they're still likely to worry some voters, leading to new questions about the accuracy of elections. For NPR News, I'm Johnny Kauffman in Atlanta.


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