Why Worries About Paperless Voting Loom Larger This Year In tight elections, the loser often calls for a recount. But recounting ballots might not be easy in states that use paperless machines — including the presidential battleground state of Pennsylvania.
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Why Worries About Paperless Voting Loom Larger This Year

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Why Worries About Paperless Voting Loom Larger This Year

Why Worries About Paperless Voting Loom Larger This Year

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

On election day, about 1 in 4 Americans will cast their votes on a so-called paperless machine, which means they'll never get to see a hard copy of their vote. Security experts worry about the lack of an adequate paper trail, especially this year, given concerns about foreign hacking and the campaign rhetoric about rigged elections. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports from the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: I've come to Harrisburg to see the Danaher 1242, a voting machine also known as the ELECTronic. Get it? The ELECTronic? Folded up, this contraption looks like a huge, beige suitcase.

JERRY FEASER: Lift the latches. And then gently lifting up...

(SOUNDBITE OF VOTING MACHINE)

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Jerry Feaser is director of elections for Dauphin County. Once the machine is vertical, he opens its doors.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOTING MACHINE)

GREENFIELDBOYCE: There's a panel with blinking lights, the candidates' names. It's a familiar sight to voters here. They've used these machines for over 30 years.

FEASER: When I first turned 18 and started voting myself, this was the first machine I ever voted on. This is the only voting machine I've ever known.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Now, this year, there's concerns about hacking. But Feaser says, consider this. These machines aren't connected to the internet. The only link to the outside world is the plug in the electrical outlet. And while a hacker could try to sneak in and tamper with the hardware, Feaser says these machines get checked and decked out with numbered security seals before going to polling places.

FEASER: I could take this voting machine, drop it off in the middle of Red Square in Moscow, and the Russians couldn't hack into it.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: At the end of election night, the machine spits out a paper receipt showing the total votes recorded for each candidate.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOTING MACHINE)

FEASER: And tear off the tape results.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: (Laughter) How long is that piece of paper? That's, like, a 10-foot-long piece of paper there.

FEASER: At least.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: But critics say this paper is not the kind of paper backup you really need. Without a hard copy of individual ballots, you can't do a real recount.

PAMELA SMITH: They don't have a separate record that the voter got a chance to see and confirm was correct at the time that they voted - nothing independent of the software and the machine.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Pamela Smith is president of a nonpartisan nonprofit called Verified Voting. She says five states exclusively use voting machines that lack an independent paper trail, New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina.

SMITH: And then there's another nine states that have paperless voting machines in some jurisdictions.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: In Pennsylvania, a battleground state, those machines are used in a majority of counties.

SMITH: You know, on a scale of all of the states, I would say Pennsylvania would be my biggest concern.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Others agree, like Avi Rubin, a computer security expert at Johns Hopkins University.

AVI RUBIN: What do we do if, at the end of the election, it comes down to Pennsylvania, and there's a challenge saying, you know, these machines were corrupted? We can't do recounts. We don't have paper ballots. We just have to live with those machines.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: At a time when Donald Trump is warning of a rigged election - here's what he said during one recent visit to the state.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: The only way we can lose, in my opinion - I really mean this - Pennsylvania is if cheating goes on. I really believe it.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: That doesn't sit well with Marian Schneider. She's Pennsylvania's deputy secretary for elections and administration.

MARIAN SCHNEIDER: I think the rhetoric about cheating and rigging is very irresponsible.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Concerns about hacking, on the other hand - federal officials have warned that state election systems have been probed by hackers with ties to Russia. The Department of Homeland Security offered to help states review election systems for vulnerabilities.

SCHNEIDER: And we in Pennsylvania thought that that was a good idea - to take advantage of those services.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: She has no evidence of any tampering. I asked her, if the election is close, and there's a challenge to the results, could Pennsylvania do an adequate audit or recount?

SCHNEIDER: The systems will be examined at that point. I mean, that's - at this point, it's really speculation.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: She says state law doesn't trigger a recount unless the difference between candidates is very, very small. Recent polls in Pennsylvania show that Hillary Clinton currently has a solid lead. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

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