An often overlooked way that suppression of Black votes occurs has been through the use of ancient, error-prone paperless voting machines. Many of these ATM-style pieces of aging equipment have been around for nearly two decades and were riddled with known problems. Still, they were being used for Tuesday’s pivotal Midterm elections that carry a world of political consequence.
The practice was particularly problematic in Georgia, where all voters were using the same equipment. But there was an important distinction to be made: voters in the poorest communities, which many times is synonymous for where Black folks live, tend to have the oldest of the machines made available to them, increasing errors for a demographic that has traditionally been underserved politically.
“The counties and cities with the fewest resources are voting on the oldest equipment that tend to have the most problems,” Edgardo Cortés, an election security advisor at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, confirmed to NewsOne during an interview on Monday.
Cortés said the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at New York University Law School, has been making a big push nationally, including in Georgia, to get states and local governments to get rid of the paperless equipment. Using them could result in voters continuing to see their votes being switched, as was the case in Georgia during early voting in the weeks leading up to Election Day. That probability far outweighed the chances of any electronic interference, Cortés said. Making matters worse, there is no paper trail that could verify the voter’s intent.
Not including printed paper or provisional ballots, there were only five states nationwide that were exclusively using paperless electronic voting machines that don’t provide printed documentation of the voter’s choices. Those states are Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Another eight states, including Texas and Pennsylvania, were also using paperless machines in some of their jurisdictions.
Predictably, the problem all came down to money for these states’ underserved communities.
“They don’t have the finances and resources to switch out the newer equipment,” Cortés said. “Because of that, you start to see a divide in the voting experience depending on where you live.”
Georgia’s election was under a microscope for good reason. Electronic machines there have been vulnerable to hacking and were notoriously prone to errors. The main problem involved voters selecting a candidate on the screen before the machine automatically cast the ballot for a different candidate. Errors with the machines tended to involve voter selections automatically switching from Democratic to Republican candidates.
Compounding those reports was the glaring conflict of interest from Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate for governor who was also overseeing the state’s election system. He was running against Stacey Abrams, who could make history as the nation’s first African-American woman governor. The two candidates were in a neck-and-neck race, so faulty machines could conceivably hand the election to Kemp.
This all came against the backdrop of voting rights groups filing federal lawsuits against Kemp for rejecting certain absentee ballots, blocking approximately 53,000 voter registration forms and purging some 700,000 voters from the state’s voting rolls—all targeting Black voters.
The problems with Georgia’s electronic machines were not new, and Kemp has long resisted using a paper ballot backup system since there was no incentive to change it because the errors favor his party.
With Election Day here, it’s too late to make changes to the equipment. Cortés advised voters to review their summary screen before casting their vote to ensure that their choices were selected. And as a contingency, officials should maintain enough paper and provisional ballots on hand if machines don’t work.
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