Ugly Facts About Electronic Voting Machines

Aug 13, 2019 (Raleigh) – In a sadly downplayed off-site event today, around a dozen NC lawmakers participated in an eye-opening discussion, led by Dr. Duncan Buell, Chairman of the University of South Carolina Department of Computer Science and Engineering, whose bottom-line purpose of the visit was to advocate for electoral transparency as a means of increasing public trust in the outcome of our elections.

                Click image to see a video recording of the presentation.

Buell’s briefing, billed as “A Discussion on Direct Record Electronic Machines (DRE),” began with the programming vulnerabilities his network of researchers have already verified throughout the nation as he made the case for paper ballots that are marked by human hands and fed through an optical scanner which tabulates the results at the precinct, before any data is transmitted (or carried) to the county headquarters.

His comparisons between centered on several factors that greatly supported the idea of eliminating both types of DRE currently in use: touch-screen voting and machine-marked ballots.

Cost – The cost between a conventional human-marked paper ballot system, that’s OCR scanned and tabulated before the voter leaves the precinct, is roughly one fifth the cost of a DRE tabulation system.

  1. Complexity – With more than 95% of precinct officials being temporary employees, keeping the system as fool-proof as possible should be a priority. The multiple processors and calibrations required by DRE add another layer of complexity, but the only challenge in human-marked ballots is the scanner. He said the scanning technology has constantly improved over the past 30 years.
  2. Vulnerability – As long as the paper ballots are fully counted and tabulated at each precinct before being transported or tabulated elsewhere, the risk of outsiders hacking the results is reduced to decimal dust. The DRE involves multiple programming steps and “around 500 thousand lines of code.” Since very few people can understand that much code, even fewer would recognize a few lines of hacked programming routines.
  3. Public Confidence – Most elections feature more than a few complaints from voters who use DRE and recount how the machine flipped to the candidate they did not support and did so right before their eyes. While election officials say that no hacked systems have ever been detected, Buell said the key is their wording. They admit the vulnerability exists, but may or may not be able to detect evidence of hacking.
  4. Scalability – He told the audience of one election whose DRE problems led to long lines and a seven-hour delay. With human-marked ballots, the only delay is at the check-in table. Adding more ballot-marking stations can cost $50 to $200, so unclogging long lines is easier. Adding another DRE voting station can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000.

Likening Election Day to his father’s career at NASA, he said “the engines start firing at t minus four seconds and something is going to happen. We have to be ready for anything than can possibly happen,”

The briefing was hosted by Representative Verla Insko (D-Orange) and Wake County Democrat Representative Allison Dahle, who also moderated audience questions for over an hour after Buell’s 15-minute PowerPoint presentation. Their invitation to other lawmakers included this message:


A little background and food for thought prior to the presentation:  Next week, our State Board of Elections will take a critical vote on whether to certify direct record electronic machines (voting machines).  We, as legislators, need/want to understand what is at stake and how this can affect our constituents’ voice when they cast their vote. DRE’s (voting machines) basically translate the votes cast into a barcode that are [sic] machine counted. In order to do a hand counted audit, as our state law requires, the barcodes will then have to be translated back into the actual votes. The other option is to certify only those systems that can be hand counted directly from the ballot cast.
“Elections security is a non-partisan issue,” said attendee, Rep Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford). “We must ensure that voters have confidence in our elections, the cornerstone of our democracy.”