Why vote on paper?

A foreign nation-state targeted our 2016 elections. In late 2017, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notified 21 states that they had been targeted by hackers during the 2016 election.

As we head into the final days of the 2018 election, the technology that supports the elections ecosystem is, in many states, tattered and ragged.

Congress passed the Help American Vote Act in 2002, kickstarting a wave of technological change in how voters cast their ballots. Early systems were 100 percent digital: no paper (fixed media) to recount or to compare with machine results for audit trails.

Today, 42 states employ electronic voting machines that use software which is at least a decade-old. For an idea of how much technology has changed in a decade, Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007. Apple has considered that original phone “obsolete” since 2013.

As if that were not scary enough, five states still rely solely on electronic voting machines that provide no paper trail.

Those five states: Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey and South Carolina.

Voters in those states should make every effort to vote on paper, either by using absentee ballots (vote by mail) or asking to vote on paper at the polls. That will be an uphill battle in Delaware, Louisiana and South Carolina: those states restrict which voters can vote using an absentee ballot.

Another nine states — Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas — use electronic machines that have no paper trail in some districtsaccording to Axios. For the November election, Arkansas will reportedly have only one polling station with no paper trail. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, produces a paper trail in only one-fourth of its 67 counties.

Voting on paper is not controversial:

Paper ballots – or, at least, auditable paper trails, in which voters can see their choices recorded on a printed roll of paper – have been recommended by experts from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program to the Defending Digital Democracy Project at Harvard’s Belfer Center.

In fact, back in March, DHS Secretary Nielsen drew a line in the sand in her testimony at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

If there is no way to audit the election, that is absolutely a national security concern.

In fact, 12 years ago, computer experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded after extensive testing “that they could find no way to verify the accuracy of votes cast on paperless touch-screens.”

Three states vote 100 percent by mail. Colorado, Oregon and Washington officials send a ballot to every registered voter eligible to vote in any election. The states have centralized centers with professional staff to support voters who need assistance.

Oregon’s vote-by-mail system resulted from a 1998 ballot measure. Because almost half of the state’s voters used absentee ballots, Oregon became the first state to have more ballots cast by mail than at the polls in a May 1998 primary.

Washington began shifting from absentee ballots and polling places to just vote-by-mail in 2005. Colorado shifted in 2014.

Voter turnout in these three states is among the highest in the country. Washington Monthly calls this “vote at home.”