New Study Praises North Carolina’s Election Practices but Cites Room for Improvement

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  • Dale Eisman

Report says there’s still time to make needed changes by Nov. 6

WASHINGTON – In what could be the most fiercely-contested election in U.S. history, North Carolina is generally prepared to deal with voting machine malfunctions and breakdowns, but risks having the state’s vote tallies made vulnerable by accepting votes cast over the internet, a new, national voting study suggests.

The report, “Counting Votes 2012: A State by State Look at Voting Technology Preparedness,” says existing internet security is insufficient and leaves votes cast online vulnerable to hackers.

And in “swing” states like North Carolina, where neither presidential candidate is expected to roll up a substantial majority, even a small error in vote counting or an online attack that alters just a few votes could be decisive.

“High-profile elections in the past decade have been decided by razor thin margins,” the report notes. “The 2000 presidential race was decided by 537 votes in Florida; the Washington State gubernatorial race in 2004 by 129 votes, and a Minnesota Senate race in 2008 by just 312. Every national election since 2000 has seen voting system failures stem from machines that won’t start, memory cards that can’t be read, mis-tallied votes, lost votes and more. Under the U.S. Constitution and every state constitution, as well as by statute throughout the country, every vote must be counted as cast.”

The report emphasizes that state election officials still have time before the election to make changes that would protect the integrity of the vote. The study was released Wednesday by three non-partisan organizations focused on voting – the Verified Voting Foundation, the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic, and Common Cause.

“North Carolina does well in a number of areas, but can still make improvements in its efforts to prepare for the upcoming election,” said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting. “No election system is perfect, and ensuring fair, accurate elections is a national effort. Our elections are complex – we have so many jurisdictions and varying technologies. Everyone from election officials to citizens should be involved to make sure this process at the very heart of our democracy is healthy.”

The report noted that voting systems routinely fail. In 2008 – the last presidential election year – more than 1,800 problems were reported nationally.

“If history is any indication, machines this November will fail in the U.S. and votes will be lost,” said Susannah Goodman of Common Cause. “Backup systems like paper ballots need to be put in place in every state to help to verify results.”

The report places rates North Carolina as “generally good” in comparing its voting and vote-counting practices to those of other states and examining its performance in each of five areas:

– Does the state require paper ballots or records of every vote cast? (When computer failures or human errors cause machine miscounts, election officials can use the original ballots to determine correct totals. Additionally, paper ballots can be used to audit machine counts.)

– Does the state have adequate contingency plans at each polling place in the event of machine failure?

– Does the state protect military and overseas voters and their ballots from alteration, manipulation and privacy violations by ensuring that marked ballots are not cast online?

– Has the state instituted a post-election audit to determine whether the electronically reported results are correct?

– Does the state use robust ballot reconciliation and tabulation practices to help ensure that no ballots are lost or added as votes are tallied and aggregated from the local to state level?

The highest rated states overall were Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin, while South Carolina, Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi — were ranked near the bottom.

“No vote should be lost in 2012,” said Penny Venetis, co-director of the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic. “Technology exists to verify votes, and procedures could be in place around the country to make sure that every vote is counted as cast, just like the constitution requires.”