Pennsylvania, the largest swing state where a substantial number of voting machines leave no auditable paper trail, making it impossible to verify if voting tabulations have been altered, says it will fix that problem in time for the 2020 presidential election.
Robert Torres, Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of state, announced Thursday he’d instructed all 67 counties that they have until the end of 2019 to move their balloting to only voting machines that produce a voter-verified paper record.
“We want to bring about the system upgrades so Pennsylvania voters are voting on the most secure and auditable equipment as promptly and feasibly as possible,” Torres said in a statement.
About 83% of Pennsylvanians live in districts where voting machines produced no paper record in 2016, according to Verified Voting, a nonprofit that tracks voting equipment in the US. In March, after losing a special election to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District by only a few hundred votes, Republican Rick Saccone chose not to pursue a recount: With no way to audit the vote count, that district’s counties couldn’t have produced a different result.
The diversity of the US’s voting systems, which are maintained by counties and administered by states with few federal guidelines, has always been seen as a defense against a nationwide hacking attack on voting results. But the closeness of the 2016 result has raised questions about whether a smaller-scale attack could affect the outcome of an election. The concerns have been bolstered as cybersecurity researchers have repeatedly demonstrated an ability to hack individual voting machines.
In March, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that replacing paperless machines with versions that could be audited was a matter of national security. Her predecessor, Jeh Johnson, reclassified voting equipment as critical infrastructure in 2016.
Experts say the most important safeguard that isn’t nationally implemented is to make sure that voting machines produce an independent paper trail, so that a post-election audit can verify results. Thirteen states, including Pennsylvania, currently use voting machines with no paper trail. Five of those — Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, and South Carolina — use them exclusively.
In March, a last-minute addition to Congress’s omnibus bill appropriated $380 million to improve voting equipment across the country. But the way the money will be distributed means that some states, like South Carolina, still won’t replace theirs.
In February, Pennsylvania issued a directive that any future voting machine purchases would have to produce a paper trail, but at the time the state didn’t issue a deadline for replacing equipment. It’s unclear how many districts, if any, will upgrade their machines in time for the 2018 midterm congressional election.