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Voting Machine Madness

Sep 4, 2019 (Raleigh) We’ve received several queries on the status of the equipment that election officials are using to collect votes and to tabulate the outcome, so now seemed like a good time for an update.

The driving force behind calls for new machines is the unsettling headlines we see every election cycle, involving voters claiming the touch-screen voting machine changed their vote. (Click here to see a 2016 story on this subject.)

 A recent symposium (reported by VIP here) addressed the need for less complex paper ballot equipment because they not only help restore some public trust in the outcome of the election, but they also cost dramatically less to purchase and to maintain!

In 2013, NC’s Legislature responded to voter complaints and moved to outlaw the touch-screen or “Direct Recording Equipment” (DRE) machines, but one company found a loophole in the law’s specific language.

As a result of the actual language of the law banning DRE, a New Bern based company, representing the largest election support corporation in America, offered a system that only kinda-sorta met the intent of the 2013 law. Lest we forget, that intent was to restore public confidence in the electoral process and it was a concept supported by transparency advocates on both sides of the political divide.

In NC’s current, open and honest paper-ballot system, the voter receives a ballot and marks their intent on that ballot, which is then fed into a machine that uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to scan the ballot for votes. These machines have been used nationwide for decades and they enjoy wide public support.

Owen Andrews of PrintElect (Courtesy of LinkedIn)

While the North Carolina State Board of Elections recently certified three different vendors for replacement gear, only two of the systems simply mark the ballot and read it with the time-tested OCR readers.

One is from Clear Ballot and their system, called “ClearVote1.4,” is described here. The other vendor with the optical-based ballot reader is Hart Intercivic and their Verity 2.2 can be reviewed here.

The third vendor, New Bern Based, PrintElect, is headed by Owen Andrews whom we’ve covered on this site before. His firm represents Election Systems and Software (ES&S) and they chose a more mysterious way to read the voters’ intent.

ES&S created paper ballots that are marked by a voter who uses a costly touch-screen system. But, unlike the other two, instead of using an OCR reader to determine the voters’ intent, ES&S added a unique barcode to the bottom of each ballot. So when the voter inserts a ballot into the machine that reads the ballot, it ignores the bubbles that the voter marked and only scans the barcode. We believe this is a major vulnerability.

Why Barcode Ballots are Bad

You may access a heavily redacted product overview to the ES&S Voting Systems 5.2.2.0 product by clicking the above image. (Photo courtesy of NC Policy Watch.)

One could easily argue that barcode technology is just as reliable as OCR, but that opens the door to hacking while it also misses the intent of the original law that banned DRE in the first place: Increasing voter confidence.

With the new ES&S machines, a voter will not only have their intent reduced to a barcode that they will not be able to decipher, but the voter can also be forever linked to their actual ballot. to be clear, a sneaky election official could determine exactly how another person voted and this is just one reason that people are upset with barcode voting. In effect, each voter is writing their name on the top of their ballot. Jim Crow has risen from the dead.

While we’re not claiming the barcode reveals the voters’ names; but NC law already allows absentee ballots to be “retrievable,” so the barcode must tie back to the actual person marking the ballot or a county would not be allowed to use it.

Fun fact: Under NC’s current system, the only way to cast a ballot that cannot be traced to the identity of the voter is to vote on Election Day.

Most voters don’t realize that all ballots–either by mail or in-person–that are cast before Election Day are defined as “absentee” ballots and they are retrievable for a very good reason:

Not that anybody would ever do it . . . but retrievable ballots are the only way possible to address identity theft before Election Day. Otherwise, voters who show up on Election Day and are told, “you already voted,” would have no way of casting their own vote and voter fraud would be rewarded even more than it already is.

But hold on. The rules on Election Dar are different. Those ballots are (and will remain to be) 100 percent anonymous . . . unless a county gets suckered into buying the new ES&S voting systems.

But wait! There’s More!

The other big reason the barcode ballots undermine public trust involves the voter being able to confirm the ballot represents their true intent. The OCR systems allow that to happen. The current DRE (provided by ES&S) and the now-approved barcode-based “paper” ballots (also provided by ES&S) falls terminally short in that area.

In both cases, the voter has no way of knowing that the way they marked the ballot is the same way their vote will be recorded and tabulated.

Both verified and unverified conspiracy theories abound in this area of the election integrity movement. Broadly known as “Black-Box Voting,” the problems with such systems are well documented in a free Bev Harris book by the same title, so we will not elaborate here.

The bottom line to the barcode-based tabulation equipment is that some human being in some dark corner of Silicon Valley wrote the code that translated a voter’s marked ballot into a barcode and somebody else could modify that code to distort the outcome of the election. While nobody is accusing that nameless programmer of being a saboteur, we are putting the integrity of our entire election into that person’s hands. But go back to sleep. None of that will ever matter . . . until it’s too late.

Thanks to the hard work of Dr. Robert Epstein, the lawfare by Dennis Preager, and the undercover journalism of gutsy people like James O’Keefe, the question no longer involves whether such an evil programmer exists. They do exist and have been caught admitting they will use their technology to prevent certain outcomes in future elections. The only question is “how far will they go?”

But don’t just take our word for it. In what must be a rare alignment with the sun, moon, Mars, and Jupiter, we at Voter Integrity Project agree with both the Fayetteville Observer and the far-left NC Policy Watch on the need to terminate any aspect of voting that erodes public trust. The ES&S system looks like a very bad idea.

Solutions?

Sadly, the easiest way to prevent this erosion (and possible) hacking or our electoral process was swung on and missed by the State Board of Elections. Two Republicans and a Democrat certified the barcode-based ES&S system. But there are still viable ways to derail that train.

The costly course of action is to join the Left in conducting lawfare. The Legislative intent was clear when they outlawed DRE in the first place. It was to restore public trust in the process and that standard is clearly violated by the barcode system. Under this option, we would need the courts to block the barcode system.

A less-costly option is more dependent on the public. Excusing their ES&S blunder, for the first time in nearly two decades, the NC SBOE amazingly certified two viable systems that do not come from ES&S.

Now, we’re not in the equipment sales business, so we leave the analysis of these two transparent and viable alternatives up to the public and to the local County Commissioners. After all, they are the ones who must ultimately fund the replenishment of their county’s election equipment.

All 100 NC counties are able to purchase new voting systems and they can select any of the three systems certified in our state. The most urgent purchases will come from those who still have the DRE and they can be discovered on the NC State BOE’s site (click here).

It’s up to the public-at-large to stop County Commissions from spending tax dollars on barcode voting systems. We get the elections we deserve . . . so the ball is in your court!

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