In the wake of Russia’s attempts to interfere in this country’s 2016 presidential election, North Carolina officials have wisely taken steps to protect our own voting process.
But doing so is proving difficult for a state legislature that doesn’t seem completely sold on the necessity.
One positive step was a proposed bill that would require paper ballots from all North Carolina voting machines. That meant that a lot of counties would have to switch from electronic touchscreen-only machines to machines that also produced a paper trail that could be verified. Even though the requirement would be costly and demand swift action, the expense would be well worth it.
But the state House voted unanimously on Wednesday to change the proposed legislation to enable the state Board of Elections to extend use of touchscreen-only voting systems by one year, or until after the presidential election. The bill says the state board could grant an extension to counties that could show their electronic system wouldn’t jeopardize election security.
“Part of the issue is the State Board of Elections did not have the time to authorize new machines which the counties could adopt for use in the process,” Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford said. He also said that switching the voting system in Guilford County alone would cost at least $8 million.
We sympathize with the demanding schedule and the expense. But changing systems to insure their integrity after the next presidential election misses the point. Protecting the integrity of the vote is essential.
Most attention to Russian interference has been placed on its manipulation of social media and hacking into emails. But Russia or somebody else may have interfered more directly in the electoral process on a small scale, right here in North Carolina.
In Durham County on Election Day 2016, electronic poll books were improperly rejecting eligible voters when they showed up at their polling place. Elections officials had to use paper poll books, causing long waits that no doubt led some people not to vote.
State and local officials at first blamed things such as poorly trained workers and a lack of computer maintenance. But they got worried that something more sinister might have gone on after they heard reports that the Kremlin had targeted a company that sells software for election equipment. Reports indicated that company might have been VR Systems, which provided Durham County’s polling book software.
The state Board of Elections has rightly decided that it won’t clear companies to sell their systems to county boards until it knows who owns and finances the companies that sell election hardware and software.
The Washington Post recently reported details about how Durham County asked Homeland Security for help in figuring out what happened, but federal authorities dragged their feet. It’s taken them more than a year to agree to do a forensic analysis of the software that caused the problems in Durham County.
Fair, open and honest elections that people can trust are at the heart of our democratic process. New technologies offer all sorts of ways for those who want to harm us to interfere in elections and undermine that trust.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to be doing all he can to thwart efforts on the federal level to make elections more secure, so it’s all the more important for states to step up.
North Carolina elections officials need to protect the integrity of our elections, even if doing so is expensive and difficult.