State elections board certifies voting equipment

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - With a packed boardroom looking on and countless others listening in by phone, the North Carolina State Board of Elections finally made a decision that will influence what kind of machines voters encounter when the head to the polls in 2020.

The board voted to maintain its existing qualifications when it comes to certifying voting systems and approve a list of vendors for voting systems, despite a lengthy public hearing when all but one or two individuals asked the board to create more stringent criteria.

Board members had to make the call after the North Carolina General Assembly voted to de-certify voting machines that only create an electronic record, such as the iVotronic, which many counties still use exclusively.

Those machines cannot be used after Dec. 1, but an approved list of possible replacements has been delayed as the board discussed its criteria.

Most of those who spoke out at Friday’s meeting and in the weeks prior were against one particular machine that has now been authorized, the Election Systems & Software (ES&S) ExpressVote, a machine that voters enter their choices on a touch screen and it prints out a barcode, rather than something that looks like a traditional ballot.

Voters and election experts at the meeting said there are concerns that voters cannot verify that the machine correctly marked their preferences, and that the style of machine makes it harder for officials to audit. They also expressed unease at the ability for hackers or cyber criminals to infiltrate the system.

Many expressed support for only using paper ballots marked by hand, or the “Automark,” which is a machine the NCSBE already allows where voters enter their choices digitally, but a ballot nearly identical to a hand-done one is printed out and tabulated.

Board member Stella Anderson made two motions in favor of outlawing systems like the ExpressVote, but the motions failed 2-3, with new board chair Damon Circosta joining the two republicans on the board.

“We are a big state,” Circosta said in a release after the meeting. “Today, we have offered counties a selection of vendors who meet state and federal requirements of increased security and reliability, while giving election administrators on the front line of democracy flexibility to choose what is best for their communities.”

Counties are not limited to the ExpressVote, and Circosta pointed out many have already transitioned to using hand-marked paper ballots for most voters.

New Hanover County is one of those counties, however voters with a disability have been using the iVotronic, so there will still need to be new systems brought in.

Representatives from Brunswick and New Hanover counties said earlier this week they would be watching the state board’s meeting to determine how to move forward.

Brunswick County will move forward with demonstrations of new voting systems in the coming months.

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