At least one Tennessee member of Congress is worried that the Russians might hijack this year’s midterm elections in the Volunteer State and ostensibly steal votes away from Democrats.
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, wants the state’s Republican-dominated legislature to appropriate more than $29 million to print up paper ballots to use as backups in case the Russians somehow hack into voting machines across the state and change the votes to suit whatever agenda the Russians are pushing.
Cooper says the federal government should be able to pay the bill for all of those ballots out of “left over” federal Help America Vote Act money, and that the ballots perhaps could be ready in time for May’s Tennessee primaries.
“We have an opportunity to improve our election system so that it cannot be hacked, so the voters have complete faith in the integrity in the system, so that democracy works well here in Tennessee,” Cooper told reporters in Nashville recently.
Most of Tennessee’s voting precincts use some sort of machines, and have for decades, so going back to paper ballots could slow down the counting process significantly, and perhaps even open up an entirely different way to commit voting fraud (“Now, where did all of those ballots go? They were right here when we locked up last night …”)
Cooper’s idea borders on being silly—even before we factor in the big waste of money — because for Tennessee’s voting machines to be hacked by the Russians or any other cyber criminals, they would first have to be connected to the internet. Fortunately for us, they aren’t.
Adam Ghassemi, a spokesman for Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, told the Associated Press that the machines used by the counties are state- and federally certified and are not connected to the web, and that Tennessee was not one of the 21 states notified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last year about attempted breaches by Russians in the 2016 elections.
There’s also a bill pending in the General Assembly filed by Democratic Senate Caucus Leader Jeff Yarbro of Nashville that would require backup paper ballot records by 2020.
Hargett said most states are waiting to see what the federal government decides to do about voting equipment in regards to the potential for hacking.
“Frankly, we’re probably trying to slow down a little bit because that federal legislation could mandate that we purchase certain types of machinery,” Hargett said.
But Cooper told the AP that there is an urgent need for the paper ballots because of this year’s open U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races in Tennessee, along with a referendum on funding embattled Nashville Mayor Megan Berry’s huge public transit plan.
There might genuinely be a need to revert to some sort of paper trail that auditors can lay their hands on to ensure the integrity of the voting process. But in the absence of any evidence of fraud in Tennessee so far, it’s probably a good idea to wait to see what happens on the national scene before committing millions of dollars to a plan that just might end up being a total waste of money.
In the meantime, Hargett and his staff, along with local election officials across Tennessee, should be able to pull off this year’s voting without having to worry about the Russians choosing our next governor and U.S. senator, among other races up for consideration.
Let’s not rush to spend $29 million or more on paper and printing that most likely won’t make any difference in who wins or loses.