After 2016 Election Hacks, Some States Return To Paper Ballots

Going back to paper ballots may seem retrograde. But in the wake of widespread uncertainties during the 2016 election, some states are ditching voting machines and reverting to paper ballots.

According to Governing,

Citing security concerns, the Virginia Board of Elections announced last Friday that it will stop using electronic voting machines in the state. The board’s action is the latest sign that state and local election agencies are trying to address growing concerns that the nation’s election infrastructure is vulnerable to hacking.

During the 2016 presidential election, Russia targeted voting systems in 21 states, according to U.S. officials. Though U.S. security officials say the cyberbreach did not impact vote-counting, they have warned of future, and more intrusive, attacks.

Some states — including Virginia and Georgia, which recently announced a pilot program to use paper ballots — hope eliminating the use of electronic ballots will reduce the threat of cyberattacks.

The move to paperless ballots began after the Florida “hanging chad” fiasco in the 2000 presidential election. Many state and local governments bought electronic voting machines in the mid-2000s after Congress allocated nearly $3 billion to update voting equipment. Electronic voting machines were touted as a way to prevent the potential for miscounting incomplete paper ballots from a punch-card machine. But some computer experts now say election systems should include paper ballots to verify the accuracy of vote tallies.

Virginia is also one of two states — the other is Iowa — that passed requirements this year for post-election audits to compare paper ballots with electronic vote tallies. A handful of other states considered similar bills. But audits are only effective if election officials have a paper trail to verify against the computer counts.

Five states — Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey and South Carolina — still use only electronic machines. Another handful of states have a mix of electronic and paper-based machines, depending on the local jurisdiction.

The 2016 election marked the return of paper ballots in Maryland. Maryland used paper ballots until 2004, when it switched over to touch-screen voting machines. In 2007, legislation was passed requiring the state election system to produce a voter-verifiable paper record for each vote cast in an election. A lack of funding delayed the reintroduction of paper ballot voting systems until last year.

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