The appearance by former special prosecutor Robert Mueller before two U.S. House committees this past week broke little new ground. It gave Democrats the forum they wanted to claim the president committed crimes. It gave Republicans the opportunity to expand on their conspiracy theories. Of most importance, Mueller reinforced that every American should be concerned about the security of our election process.
While Russian meddling in the 2016 election apparently did not include any altering of results, the vulnerability of computer systems to attack is enough to make security a top priority. South Carolina has taken an important step in that direction.
The state has awarded a contract for a new statewide voting system. An evaluation panel unanimously selected the Election Systems and Software (ES&S) ExpressVote voting system. The new paper-based system will replace the state’s aging paperless system that has been in place since 2004.
“This system will not only provide voters with a dependable system for years to come, but it will also greatly enhance the security and resilience of our election process,” said Marci Andino, executive director of the State Election Commission. “We will now be able to audit paper ballots to verify results. This is a significant measure that will go a long way in providing voters and election officials the assurance that every vote is counted just as the voter intended.”
The ExpressVote ballot-marking device provides voters with the familiarity of a touchscreen combined with the security of a paper ballot. Voters will navigate the ballot and make selections using a touchscreen. After verifying selections, voters will print their paper ballot. Voters will then have the opportunity to review the paper ballot before inserting it into a scanner. The scanner counts the votes, and the paper ballot is automatically dropped into a ballot box. Votes are recorded on the scanner, and the paper ballots are saved for auditing and verification of results.
“Our job was to find the best system out there for the voters of South Carolina,” said John Wells, chairman of the State Election Commission. “We were looking for a system that is secure, accurate, accessible, auditable, transparent, reliable and easy for poll managers and voters to use. Over the course of our six-week review, we read the proposals, participated in the demonstrations, and heard from industry experts. In the end, one clearly stood out above the rest.”
Importantly, the process of selecting a new voting system included input from state and private cybersecurity experts, advocates for voters with disabilities, experts on accessible technology, national voting system technology consultants, and county and state election administrators.
At $51 million, the cost of the new system is not inexpensive. But ensuring the integrity of the vote is a government – and taxpayer – priority.
With Mueller stating emphatically his belief that Russian efforts – and those of others -- to interfere with U.S. elections in multiple ways is continuing, South Carolina for one has taken an important step toward security of the voting process. The new system is to be used to conduct all elections after Jan. 1, 2020.