Aging paperless voting machines in hotly-contested districts stoke fears ahead of midterms

More than 140 of November’s congressional elections will be decided using electronic voting machines with no verifiable paper trail, leading to concerns among election officials that any hacking or tampering will be undetectable—and accurate recounts or audits in the event of extremely close races, difficult to verify.

Nationwide, Reuters reports, 14 of the 40 most competitive seats are in districts where voters will not have access to paper ballots. These races will take place in states that include Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Kansas, and Kentucky.

“Voter confidence is a really big thing, and it’s the battle I worry about losing,” Jonathan Marks, Pennsylvania’s elections commissioner, told Reuters.

In addition to undermining voter confidence, the lack of a paper trail could leave the machines vulnerable to election-meddling, officials say. The concerns come as anxiety over the legitimacy of elections is growing, with nearly three-quarters of voters telling CNN earlier this year that they are concerned about foreign interference in the American voting process.

Last year, hackers at Def Con demonstrated the ease with which they could break into electronic voting machines, prompting Virginia to replace its paperless system.

Congress appropriated $380 billion to states this year to upgrade their voting systems, but many states say that even with the new funds, they will not be able to improve their machines before the 2018 election.

In a new report released Thursday, Public Citizen advised local officials to negotiate affordable prices for secure paper ballot and electronic scanner voting systems in order to replace paperless machines in time for November.

“There’s an urgent need to move away from paperless electronic voting machines, ideally before the fall general election,” said Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign, in a statement. “We want to make sure that election officials can make the most of their limited election security funding to get more secure paper ballot and scanner-based voting systems.”

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Julia Conley is a Common Dreams staff writer.

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