You might have noticed a trend in North Carolina politics: dysfunction. That sense now pervades even those seemingly innocuous arms of the government. Just this week, the chairman of the Board of Elections, Bob Cordle, resigned after apparently telling some lengthy, crude joke at a conference of local elections boards. Why does it seem that those in positions of power take their roles less seriously than the rest of us?
Either way, the resignation could not have come at a worse time, since the Board of Elections is now embroiled in some new controversy over the voting systems we will use statewide. If you recall, the electronic systems we used were at the least unsafe, and at the worst compromised by meddlers abroad.
For their part, Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report indicating a distressing number of vulnerabilities in our voting machines. Now is a crucial time for swift, decisive action, yet our Board of Elections is handcuffed because of crude jokes. Seriously.
Even before the controversy around Cordle, the Board sought to reverse what was a sensible vote. The voting machines in North Carolina are outdated, and it’s time to update them substantially.
Even if no concerted effort to alter the actual results of the elections occurs, the issue is just as much about the perception of electoral integrity. We know that Russian actors, for example, orchestrated an online campaign to influence the results of the 2016 election. Whether their efforts had a tangible impact is immaterial; the fact is, we know they’re tryingto influence the elections, and with a mounting concern about the integrity of our voting machines and how votes are counted, the suggestion of results as illegitimate could have as much of an impact politically and socially as an actual alteration of the votes. Perception is reality.
The Board of Elections was actually charting a course in the right direction. On Monday, the Board voted to require voting systems to produce a paper ballot reviewable by the voter. That means, instead of tapping away your votes or receiving a barcode you could not read with your own eyes, the state would mandate that you have a chance to ensure your ballot reflects the actual choices you made. Sounds good, right?
Yet suddenly, and without apparent cause, the Board issued a notice that they would be holding a meeting to rescind that vote. The status of voting machines in North Carolina is again unknown.
Regardless of the outcome, which will occur before this column is printed, there is a solution we all should embrace: paper ballots.
In no way do I consider myself a luddite, but in the case of elections I make an exception. Voting machines with touch screens are bulky, cumbersome and outdated the second they leave the production facility. Imagine using an iPhone from 2009. Some of the voting machines still used in North Carolina are pushing 15 years.
Pen and paper are secure and familiar. It’s a far cheaper method than purchasing, servicing and learning to use a clunky touch screen device, each costing thousands of dollars alone – all this while the state government starves localities for money to shore up election security.
Paper ballots may take a bit longer than digital to tally, but I can live with that. I’d rather know my vote is exactly what I wrote, rather than entrust the franchise to a robot older than any other technology I own. I know I won’t be sleeping on election night in 2020. What’s another hour?
Note: This column is appearing in the Salisbury Post on Thursday, August 1st.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.