NC Elections Board To Vote On Certifying New Voting Equipment

Jul 29, 2019

One of the three voting systems being considered for certification by the State Board of Elections. The board held a meeting on Sunday at a hotel in Cary to observe the voting equipment. A vote on certification is set for Monday.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

The State Board of Elections is scheduled to vote Monday night on the certification of new voting systems for use in North Carolina. The decision comes just as a U.S. Senate report raised concerns about voting machine security nationwide.

The state elections board met Sunday to see presentations by three companies seeking certification. Once certified, the companies may then contract with county elections boards.

The board also heard from more than a dozen members of the public, overwhelmingly expressing their preference for hand-marked ballots.

"Any equipment that relies on proprietary software is potentially vulnerable, whether from foreign tampering or from configuration errors," said Dianna Wynn, president of the League of Women Voters of Wake County, addressing the board Sunday.

A 67-page report by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Russian interference in the 2016 elections, said aging voting equipment with no paper record of votes was vulnerable to exploitation.

"You know, I get questions occasionally, jokes about 'Does this count?' or 'Can this be hacked?' and so, I really, I feel that I want to be able to reassure people that we have the best system," said Siobhan Millen, who serves as a chief voting precinct judge in Raleigh.

Wake County uses hand-marked paper ballots and does not have to implement new voting systems but 22 other counties do. That's because the touch-screen systems they use are scheduled for de-certification December 1. And new systems must be tested in at least one precinct before being used in an election county-wide.

"We are going to have to find new equipment ahead of the 2020 primary election in March of next year," said Sara Knotts, director of the county elections board in Brunswick, one of the county's whose equipment will be de-certified.

Knotts and other county elections officials from across the state are gathering for a two-day training conference starting Monday in the same Cary hotel where the voting systems vendors presented their equipment and where the state board will vote on certification.

State Board of Elections Chairman Bob Cordle, center, and board member David Black, right, watch a presentation by one of the vendors seeking certification for use in North Carolina elections.
Credit Rusty Jacobs / WUNC

Two of the three companies seeking certification rely on touch-screen systems that scan hand-marked paper ballots and allow voters to confirm or alter their choices. The third system uses a touch-screen and produces a ticket with a bar-code and the names of the candidates chosen by the voter.

State elections board Chairman Bob Cordle said he understands people's concerns about voting machine security.

"But that's why we have the paper ballot backup," he added. "That's why we audit post-election and do the audits quickly."

The vendors had to undergo reviews by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to be eligible for state certification.