Transparency concerns raised during voting-machine demonstration

Transparency concerns raised during voting-machine demonstration
September 26
03:00 2019

With the 2020 election drawing near and a lot of questions still unanswered about district lines, IDs, and voting machines, last week citizens in Forsyth County had the opportunity to listen to representatives from the companies vying for the contract from the N.C. State Board of Elections.

Voting machines have been a concern for voters across the state since April when Robert Mueller’s report showed that a company that provided election software for several counties across the state may have been compromised by Russian hackers. Since that time, federal officials have been investigating the voting process here in N.C., and state election officials have been working to decide which company would be best to replace touchscreen voting machines in counties across the state, including Forsyth County.

The three companies battling for the contract are: Electric Systems & Software (ES&S), Hart InterCivic and Clear Ballot. All three have been certified by the state, but each county has the power to decide which machine they will use.

For more than three hours, dozens of voters, Democrats and Republicans alike, listened to pitches and took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions about the machines.

While the representatives from ES&S, Hart InterCivic and Clear Ballot discussed their machines, Andrew Brakey made his own pitch for what he and others believe is the best tool for marking ballots, a pen.

The N.C. State Board of Elections recently approved voting machines manufactured by ES&S that turn machine-marked ballots into barcodes and then the votes are counted by machines. When the motion came before the board last month, it was approved by a 3-2 vote. Brakey said the barcodes and using machines to mark ballots obscures the voting process.

“Computers can add things perfectly and we don’t want votes to go into a black box. We want elections to be transparent, trackable, and publicly verified.” Brakey said.

Brakey, who is the co-founder and director of Audit USA, an organization founded in 2004 with the mission to restore public ownership and oversight of elections and ensure the fundamental right of every American citizen to vote, said he’s not a technophobe, but he does understand that computers and barcodes can be easily manipulated.

“When the ballots go into the machine, it does something special, it takes a picture of it and that’s a public record. Voting is a secret process, counting is a public process,” Brakey continued. “I can sell you gallon of milk at a Circle K, it’s going to cost $4.99. That same gallon of milk at a grocery store costs $2.99. Do they change the barcode? No, it’s the same barcode. Three to four percent of all barcodes have small mistakes.”

Brakey said hand-marked ballots are like snowflakes, each one has its own unique marking and they’re harder to manipulate and/or duplicate. He also raised concerns about the cost of replacing voting machines throughout the state. According to Brakey, some vendors charge more than $4,000 for one machine, while a pen to mark ballots would cost less than 10 cent a piece.

Brakey isn’t the only person who has questions about the barcodes and the need for paper ballots. Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the N.C. NAACP, has also spoken out against the state board’s decision.

Although a timetable has not been set, a decision is expected to be made before the end of the year. The Forsyth County Board of Elections holds monthly meetings at the Forsyth County Government Center, 201 N. Chestnut Street.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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