South Carolina’s electronic voting machines do not produce a “paper trail,” that record a person’s vote, but a new audit finds it would cost over $17 million to change that.
The Legislative Audit Council looked into reported problems with the state’s voting machines at the request of then-Senator (now Lt. Gov.) Glenn McConnell last year. The audit found that creating hard copies of electronic votes would be costly.
“We don’t have a paper trail and it’d cost about $17 million to add that,” LAC deputy director Andrea Truitt told South Carolina Radio Network. “A paper trail would allow the voter to verify on an independent piece of paper that who they voted for is actually recorded as who they voted for.” South Carolina and five other states do not have voter-verified paper audits.
South Carolina bought the machines that counties currently use for elections in 2004 and 2005 with over 34.5 million in state and federal funds. Truitt said the machines have reached their “half-life,”but a contract that covered any modifications expired in 2011. The House set aside $5 million in next year’s proposed budget for the State Election Commission to begin procuring new machines (with more funding expected in future budgets).
But a problem would emerge if the state wanted to replace the machines. The standards are set at the federal level by the Election Assistance Commission, which currently has no commissioners overseeing it. As a result, Truitt says manufacturers have halted production of new machines until the commission leadership is settled.
The report recommends that the state require its counties audit election results— matching the final vote tallies with what the machines actually recorded— before certifying the results as official. The process is very inconsistent and is not used by every county, the report notes. When an audit is done, it’s usually after the vote has been officially certified. “Sometimes, when they run these audits, they find there were votes that were not recorded or… counted correctly,” Truitt said, “Once the votes are certified, that’s what the election is. Even if they find later that’s not a true representation of the votes that were cast.”
The LAC report recommends that lawmakers create a longer window between Election Day and the deadline for a certification in order to give more time for a proper audit. The state Election Commission has supported the additional time in the past.
However, the LAC also adds that a true audit is not possible on the current ES&S iVotronic machines. “To be effective, election audits generally require a paper trail, a hard copy of voter intent that the voter has the opportunity to review for accuracy,” it noted.
The audit noted that other states which use the iVotronic machines have reported problems with them, including security flaws, disappearing and flipped votes, and candidates whose names were missing from the screen. However, Truitt said South Carolina’s Election Commission does not have any mechanism that allows state officials to get an overall look at reported problems. “Other than anecdotally what they read in the paper or what they may hear from elections officials, they don’t really hear anything from the actual voters,” she said.
The audit recommended that the state Election Commission create a hotline for voters to report any problems.