Old vot­ing ma­chines blamed for elec­tion prob­lems

The Herald (Rock Hill) - - Front Page - BY SARAH EL­LIS AND HAN­NAH SMOOT sel­lis@thes­tate.com hgsmoot@her­al­don­line.com

Vot­ing equip­ment that’s older than the first iPhone is be­ing blamed by some elec­tion of­fi­cials in South Carolina for some prob­lems vot­ers ex­pe­ri­enced on Elec­tion Day.

State and lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials are call­ing on S.C. law­mak­ers to pay up for new vot­ing equip­ment in time for next year’s lo­cal elec­tions to head off any fur­ther is­sues that could arise dur­ing the next gen­eral elec­tion.

“Most of our is­sues that we had on Elec­tion Day were as a re­sult of the age of the equip­ment,” said Rokey Sule­man, Rich­land County’s elec­tions di­rec­tor. “We des­per­ately want to have this (new) equip­ment and run it through the fall elec­tions in 2019, be­cause if we im­ple­ment it for the first time in pres­i­den­tial pref­er­ence pri­maries, which are go­ing to have high turnout, or in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, it’s go­ing to have an im­pact.”

South Carolina’s cur­rent vot­ing ma­chines were pur­chased in 2004. The first iPhone was re­leased three years later.

Some vot­ers in Rich­land and York coun­ties on Tues­day com­plained of the touch­screen vot­ing ma­chines chang­ing their se­lec­tions when they pressed the screens.

One woman in Lake Wylie said her vot­ing ma­chine changed her vote for U.S. House rep­re­senta-


tive six times be­fore poll work­ers moved her to a new ma­chine.

Some of those is­sues were hap­pen­ing be­cause of cal­i­bra­tion is­sues with the older ma­chines. Though ma­chine cal­i­bra­tion can be fixed at the polling sites, those is­sues are hap­pen­ing more fre­quently as the ma­chines age, York County elec­tions di­rec­tor Wanda Hem­phill said.

“All elec­tion of­fi­cials are in agree­ment that the sys­tem needs to be re­placed,” Hem­phill said. “It’s show­ing its wear.”

The State Elec­tion Com­mis­sion plans to ask state law­mak­ers for $60 mil­lion to go to­ward buy­ing 13,000 new vot­ing ma­chines that of­fi­cials hope could be in place some­time in 2019 ahead of the pres­i­den­tial pri­maries, said Chris Whit­mire, a spokesman for the elec­tion com­mis­sion.

“Elec­tions are too im­por­tant to wait un­til you see any kind of cat­a­strophic fail­ure to de­cide to re­place,” Whit­mire said.

In any elec­tion, there will be prob­lems that can’t be blamed on the age of tech­nol­ogy, Whit­mire and Sule­man said.

Hu­man and lo­gis­ti­cal er­rors — such as wrong codes be­ing punched in ma­chines, equip­ment be­ing de­liv­ered to wrong places and poll work­ers not show­ing up — caused some prob­lems Tues­day that had noth­ing to do with old tech­nol­ogy, Whit­mire said.

“It’s easy to blame all of the is­sues on the age of the sys­tem, but that’s not the case in every sit­u­a­tion,” he said.

Nev­er­the­less, Whit­mire said, South Carolina’s 14-year-old equip­ment is near the end of its ex­pected life­span, and up­dated tech­nol­ogy could help im­prove elec­tions.

A $60 mil­lion re­quest for new vot­ing equip­ment is not too much “when you con­sider the fact that peo­ple don’t be­lieve that their vote counts,” said state Rep. Todd Ruther­ford, D-Rich­land, who sits on the House’s bud­get-writ­ing com­mit­tee. “Mak­ing sure that our votes count is the cen­ter­piece of democ­racy.”

A law­suit against the State Elec­tion Com­mis­sion filed in July by the non­profit group Pro­tect Democ­racy al­leges that South Carolina’s vot­ing ma­chines are an­ti­quated and vul­ner­a­ble to hack­ing.

After this week’s elec­tions, South Carolina’s chap­ter of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union sent a let­ter to State Elec­tion Com­mis­sion Di­rec­tor Marci Andino ask­ing her to de­mand the state leg­is­la­ture fund new ma­chines.

“We have a leg­is­la­ture that is loath to spend money,” said Su­san Dunn, le­gal di­rec­tor for the ACLU of South Carolina. “We’ve been try­ing to do govern­ment on the cheap for so long. (Vot­ing equip­ment) is part of the in­fra­struc­ture of democ­racy. This is as im­por­tant as bridges.

“We’ve kicked this can down the road as long as we can.”

One thing lo­cal and state elec­tion of­fi­cials, along with the ACLU, are look­ing for in new elec­tion equip­ment is a pa­per trail be­hind all votes. South Carolina is one of only five states whose vot­ing sys­tems do not in­clude a pa­per com­po­nent to au­dit vote to­tals. A pa­per trail in­creases elec­tion se­cu­rity and voter con­fi­dence, of­fi­cials say.

Ruther­ford said he also is in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing al­ter­na­tive elec­tion sys­tems to im­prove the ease and ef­fi­ciency of vot­ing, such as Ore­gon’s sys­tem of mail­ing bal­lots to all el­i­gi­ble vot­ers.

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