Roy Cooper’s North Carolina State Board of Elections continues to be immersed in a cloud of chaos and has now voted to allow untested voting machines to be certified for use in next year’s elections.
The SBE is currently on its fourth chair in twelve months, having lost its previous three chairs for reasons ranging from the banal (partisan hackery from an ostensibly political neutral official) to the bizarre (cow sex jokes). The board has also voted along partisan lines not to hold local board members accountable for violating a state law against their making “written or oral statements intended for general distribution or dissemination to the public at large supporting or opposing the nomination or election of one or more clearly identified candidates for public office.”
Despite the chaos on the board, it has remained remarkably consistent in one area: not requiring the use of hand-marked paper ballots in North Carolina elections.
If you are a voter in one of the 4/5 of North Carolina counties where hand-marked paper ballots are used, you can be forgiven for not knowing that this is an issue in North Carolina. However, about a fifth of North Carolina’s counties use touchscreen voting systems. Those systems have suffered a number of failures in North Carolina, including lost votes and votes for the wrong candidates.
One of the systems the state board certified last summer as a replacement for the aging systems currently used in many counties is a touchscreen voting system that prints a paper ballot, but the official vote counted in the election is contained in a barcode unreadable by humans.
Now the manufacturer of the system, Elections Systems and Software (ES&S), has told the state board that there will not be enough of the certified touchscreen machines available for the state. Instead, the company’s lobbyist and SBE Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell recommended that the board approve the use of a similar but untested system from ES&S.
Democratic board member Stella Anderson was having none of that, as detailed in a December 2 memo to the board:
“This certainly appears to be part of a strategy by ES&S to tip the scales in favor of a quick approval process requiring no further testing or evaluation the 18.104.22.168 system,” Anderson wrote in a memo to the other board members, referring to the technical number of ES&S’ newer system.
Holding on to the information of an equipment shortage until the last minute, the irregular channel of communicating that information, inaccurately disclosing the location where the machines are manufactured and not notifying the board of problems with the current system until after it was certified are all part of a “clear pattern of actions on the part of ES&S that represent a fundamental lack of candor in the certification process,” Anderson wrote.
North Carolina’s elections have just become that much less secure.