Monday, November 18, 2019

Nonprofit tests voting machines in rural Mississippi it says are more secure and cheaper than many certified systems

Choctaw County, Mississippi
(Wikipedia map)
Amid nationwide fears about election security, a nonprofit is trying to find a better, cheaper way to record votes, and it appeared to do well in its first trial run in rural Mississippi earlier this month, Jessica Huseman reports for ProPublica.

Improving election security is a pressing problem. It's well-known that Russia targeted election systems in all 50 states in the 2016 election, and though states have spent millions on new voting systems, many of the new electronic systems are still vulnerable to hacking because they rely on outdated software.

Mississippi is "one of only a few states in the country to allow the use of voting machines that have not been certified by federal authorities, and the state has no certification process of its own," Huseman reports. The lack of regulation makes it easier to innovate, according to VotingWorks, a new, nonpartisan nonprofit that makes voting machines.

VotingWorks founders Ben Adida and Matt Pasternack say their machines improve security by reintroducing the use of paper, so there's a record of each vote. Also, the machines are inexpensive to make, easy to fix, and easy to set up and take down, they say, which they hope will help reduce often long lines for voters, Huseman reports.

Voters in Choctaw County, population 8,547, were the first to use VotingWorks machines; voters in a single precinct used them during the primary this year, then during a retirees' potluck lunch. County election commissioners "enthusiastically" allowed the company to use the machines all over the county on Nov. 5, Huseman reports. By all reports, things went smoothly; poll workers and voters said voting on the machines was easy and that the machines produced an accurate vote count.

"Adida and Pasternack recognize that there is justified trepidation around proceeding with machines that haven’t been formally certified, but they said that they are confident that their process will result in a more secure, affordable and user-friendly machine," Huseman reports.

David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, told Huesman, “Certification can be a double-edged sword . . . "On the one hand, we want and need minimum standards for access and integrity in our voting machines. But on the other hand, certification can be a significant barrier to innovation."

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