When I cast my first ballot, I voted on a paper ballot for Daniel R. McLeod, who was elected attorney general and served for the next 24 years. At that time, voting machines in South Carolina were limited to several urban counties. As I recall, election security consisted of a padlocked plywood ballot box, the key to which was attached to a modest chain connected to the padlock. I did not give much thought to the mechanics of elections, or how the poll managers tabulated the election results from the paper ballots cast.
Though no election is perfectly conducted, most of us engage in faith-based voting, meaning that we as voters have faith that, for the most part, our election procedures work properly. We have faith that when we cast our ballots, our votes are recorded as intended. Sometimes, we must stop to examine that faith. Recently, I viewed a documentary film titled “I Voted?” by filmmaker Jason Grant Smith. His film opened my eyes to our systemic voting challenges.
After the failure of the 2000 election in Florida, Congress allocated $3.5 billion to the states to upgrade election equipment. South Carolina moved quickly and spent $34.5 million on our current iVotronic touch-tone screens. And our election security has been a troubling topic ever since, because of the inability of our state’s voting machines to produce a voter-marked paper ballot, which can generate a voter-verified paper audit trail to allow recounts and random audits of election results. In March of 2013, our state’s Legislative Audit Council determined that the iVotronic voting machines “do not allow voters to verify their votes by paper or produce an auditable paper trail as does a voter verified paper audit trail system.”
The Legislative Audit Council also found that “Problems with iVotronic machines that have been reported in elections in other states include vote flipping, candidates missing from screens, lost votes or too many votes, freezing, and batteries.” South Carolina’s flawed and obsolete voting computers produce no paper trail, which makes any meaningful audit or recount an impossibility. Most likely, you are not using the same computer you had in 2004; however, you are voting on antiquated equipment, purchased before the first generation of the iPhone.
While it is well past time for replacing the iVotronic voting equipment, the specifics of the voting equipment to be used in the future remain in doubt. Consequently, I have sponsored legislation to create a committee to study election equipment. H.4080 passed the House on May 13 and was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. (I was unsuccessful in obtaining House approval of H. 4078, which would have required the State Election Commission to inform the General Assembly of its purchase plans by the end of 2015, and required legislative approval for any purchases of election equipment.) We must stand firm on what we demand from our voting equipment and from our elections in general. First and foremost, we must have durable records of voter-marked intent.
Or, simply put, we must have paper ballots with optical-scan counting. When we began using digitized vote recording, we gave away our ability to effectively audit or recount votes. In addition, we must make certain that the purchase of new election equipment remains an open and transparent process. Ensuring election integrity is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It is an issue that impacts every South Carolinian, as well as every American.
Voting is the constitutional right from which we derive all of our other rights. Democracy will end if we do not protect the integrity of elections by assuring that each ballot is correctly recorded and correctly tabulated.