Governor McAuliffe’s voting machine proposal needs rethinking

Election-2011Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch carried an op-ed piece of mine in which I take issue with Governor Terry McAuliffe’s recent proposal to provide $28 million in funding to Virginia counties and cities to buy new, up-to-date voting equipment — on the condition that all the localities buy the same hardware and software.

I argue that election security and protection against fraud is better served when each locality can purchase its own equipment, based on its own assessment of the needs of its voters and the capabilities of its election officials. A variety of voting systems is a deterrent against those who seek to alter the results of elections by hacking into the machines.

Although election fraud of this nature is practically and historically unknown (John Fund, who is highly critical of election security procedures, noted in his 2004 book, Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy, that “in the twenty-plus years that these machines have been used, in many counties all across the country, there has never been a verified case of tampering”), if a single, uniform system were used across the Commonwealth, it would be that much easier for a determined hacker to attack the system and make mischief in statewide or multijurisdictional (e.g., U.S. House of Representatives) elections.

My concerns are echoed by my Bearing Drift colleague Brian Schoeneman, whom I quote in the article:

As Brian Schoeneman, secretary of the Fairfax County Electoral Board, told me, “One of the benefits to having different types of voting machines in each jurisdiction is security. While unlikely, if there is a security flaw that could impact the outcome of an election, the impact is limited by the fact that each jurisdiction uses different machines. A security flaw in one area couldn’t be replicated all over the commonwealth, only in the places with the same machines. Thus, allowing each locality to choose for itself helps to increase security overall.”

In Virginia’s counties and cities, election procedures are administered locally, in accord with comprehensive state laws, broad guidance from the State Board of Elections, and a few federal laws aimed to guarantee free, fair and honest elections.

Schoeneman explained that it is “important to note that each jurisdiction is different, with different voter expectations, size and available resources. By mandating a one-size-fits-all statewide system, you’ll inevitably be playing to the median jurisdiction — leaving both the smallest and largest jurisdictions with problems that are probably going to be unforeseen. Allowing for local control and local decision-making helps to resolve these difficulties, and is one of the reasons why we have local electoral boards and general registrars, not a top-down system from Richmond.”

Most of the voting equipment that was purchased in Virginia following the 2000 “hanging chad” election in Florida is nearing the end of its useful life. Governor McAuliffe’s acknowledgment of this and his proposal that the state should help pay for replacement equipment is welcome, although some might wonder where, precisely, the money is going to come from. Where I part ways with the Governor is with his suggestion that purchasing uniform voting equipment is the right thing to do.

Read the whole thing here, and feel free to comment whether you agree or disagree.

@rick_sincere | | Rick Sincere’s posts

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