16 million voters likely won’t have paper trails in 2020. That’s a problem.
A new report says that when it comes time to vote in the 2020 elections, as many as 16 million voters will have no choice but to use electronic machines with no paper trail.
The estimate, made by the Brennan Center for Justice, assumes that Louisiana, New Jersey, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Kansas, and Mississippi will all have to keep their voting machines status quo. The Brennan Center notes that many, but not all, politicians in the states are seeking federal funding to strengthen their election procedures, which could lower the number further.
The quest for a secure ballot in America has taken many turns. After “hanging chads” entered the nomenclature thanks to poorly decided paper ballots in Florida in the 2000 presidential election, there was a nationwide push for electronic voting. But over time, it became clear that these machines were vulnerable to hacking thanks to their Internet access and poor firewalls. By the 2016 election, many feared those vulnerabilities could be easily exploited by anyone with a will to do so.
“Given Russian intentions to undermine the credibility of the election process, states should take urgent steps to replace outdated and vulnerable voting systems,” reads a recommendation from a report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate. “When safeguarding the integrity of U.S. elections, all relevant elements of the government—including at the federal, state, and local level—need to be forward looking and work to address vulnerabilities before they are exploited.”
Having a physical paper trail is the single best way to corroborate voting numbers, experts say. The Senate Committee report states that “paper ballots and optical scanners are the least vulnerable to cyber-attack” among voting methods, and cash-strapped election officials don’t have anywhere close to the money to buy those.
In several states, there’s no central election authority, which means that local municipalities have to find the funds for better elections themselves. With a group as diverse as American municipalities, some can’t afford to pay for paper systems, and some officials don’t believe the Senate and all the outside experts. Purchases of backup papeer trail tech have been slowed “due either to a lack of money or to disbelief in the experts’ warnings,” says a recent Politico report.
While the numbers are grim, they are an improvement over 2016, when 27.5 million voters made their voices heard on paperless machines, per Brennan. The trend is that the antiquated machines that have run elections since 2004 are on their way out.
However, as Brennan notes, election security is about more than just improving voting machines: “Cybersecurity support for local election jurisdictions, and upgrades to voter registration databases and other critical election systems” are crucial for safe elections. And that sort of infrastructure still has a long way to go.