The United States has a disturbing habit of investing in unvetted new touchscreen voting machines that later prove disastrous. As we barrel toward what is set to be the most important election in a generation, Congress appears poised to fund another generation of risky touchscreen voting machines called universal use Ballot Marking Devices (or BMDs), which function as electronic pens, marking your selections on paper on your behalf. The rapid proliferation of these unnecessary new ballot-marking machines comes at a time when many voters have already been losing confidence in America’s election system. So why, given their inherent security problems, are these new ballot-marking devices being taken up in more and more jurisdictions across the country? As with so much in American politics, following the money sheds light on the motivation of some of the election officials choosing these systems.
United States elections are not evidence-based elections. Only two states, Colorado and New Mexico, conduct manual audits sufficiently robust to detect vote tally manipulation. Depending on the type of voting system used, some jurisdictions may have no paper ballots with which to conduct a manual recount or manual audit or recount in the first place. As of April 2018, fourteen states still used such “paperless” voting machines. Their potential vulnerability is critical because the entire system of our democracy depends on public trust—the belief that, however divided the country is, the result has integrity. Nothing is more insidious and corrosive than the idea that the tally of votes itself could be unreliable and exposed to fraud.