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Politics & Government

Advocates Say Electronic Voting Should Include Printed Paper Ballots

John Minchillo


Allegheny County has been held as a model for its handling of electronic voting testing and inspection. It’s the only county in Pennsylvania to conduct parallel testing, meaning an independent organization randomly selects machines on Election Day and simulates usage.

Despite testing, some local groups aren’t convinced the machines are secure. Vote Allegheny Treasurer Secretary Audrey Glickman said the county needs to upgrade its system to one that prints a paper ballot or use a print-out from another machine.

“Then we can have a statistically significant audit and have some means of recounting what the vote was,” Glickman said. “Right now we can’t recount the vote.”

2015 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision struck down an appeal to implement printed ballots, backing the use of direct-recording voting systems.

The Elections Division inspects the county’s iVotronic DRE software several weeks before Election Day. Pennsylvania implemented the machines 10 years ago to comply with the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which was passed in response to the 2000 election difficulties.

A recent New York University School of Law study identified a number of vulnerabilities in machines like those used in Allegheny County. Among the findings, they found the systems were not designed to last long and were often unable to protect themselves from hackers.

Glickman compared some of the machine’s potential flaws to those at Volkswagon, and said inaccurate results could be programmed to appear compliant.

“The machines know it’s not Election Day, they know to say everything is fine,” Glickman explained. “It’s similar to the way they print a zero tape showing there are no votes on the machine on the morning of Election Day, but they can print that tape long after voting has been going on.”

There’s no evidence that the machines in Allegheny County have been hacked, but that hasn’t quelled the concerns of groups like Vote Allegheny and the League of Women Voters’ Pittsburgh Chapter. Both have advocated for upgrades and security testing that goes beyond what Glickman calls the “minimum.”

“We should be embarrassed at this point,” she said. “We’re looking bad because we’re still using these machines and other people have gotten rid of them.”

As a swing state, Pennsylvania could significantly impact the 2016 election. Earlier this month, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said the only way he would lose Pennsylvania is through voter fraud or hacked machines.