State Elections Board's Sudden Vacancy Could Affect Debate Over Certification Of New Voting Machines

Jul 31, 2019

Bob Cordle, center, observing a new voting system during a meeting of the State Board of Elections, on Sunday. On Tuesday, Cordle resigned as chairman of the elections board just a day after telling an inappropriate joke at a training conference for county elections officials.
Credit Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

The sudden resignation of State Board of Elections Chairman Bob Cordle presents an opportunity for people who oppose the certification of new voting systems in future North Carolina elections.

The board is scheduled to meet Thursday and had been expected to move towards certifying three new systems. Once certified by the state board, the vendors for those systems may seek contracts with individual counties.

The board's two Republicans, Ken Raymond and David Black, and Cordle, a Democrat, favored certification. But Cordle stepped down Tuesday, just a day after telling an inappropriate joke during remarks at the start of  a conference for state and county elections officials.

Gov. Roy Cooper must now choose a replacement from a list of nominees submitted by the state Democratic Party. He could end up selecting someone who would join the board's other two Democrats, Jeff Carmon III and Stella Anderson, in opposing certification. That would tip the five-member board towards not certifying.

At a public meeting on Sunday, convened to allow the voting systems vendors to present their equipment to the state elections board members, advocacy groups and concerned citizens had urged the board to put off certification and continue using the hand-marked ballot and tabulator system employed by most counties across the state. They cited potential vulnerabilities in newer voting technologies.

"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 on 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, and also attended Sunday's meeting.

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.

One of the voting systems being considered for certification by the state elections board. A vote on certification will probably be delayed until Gov. Roy Cooper picks a replacement for Board Chairman Bob Cordle, who stepped down on Tuesday.
Credit Rusty Jacobs, WUNC

"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.

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.

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