Pennsylvania is the latest state to demand new voting machines that leave a paper trial — a security measure to prevent against hacking. But, according to a report from AP, it’s unlikely the change will be made any time soon. The directive issued by governor Tom Wolf was only for the state to buy paper-backed machines if and when they replace their current stock. And as the latest budget plan does not include money for this, it’s not clear when the change will happen.
Nevertheless, the news was warmly welcomed by groups demanding paper-backed voting machines to maintain the integrity of US elections. Marybeth Kuznik, an election judge and founder of VotePA, a nonprofit group opposing digital-only voting, told the AP that the order was “a huge step forward for Pennsylvania, for better elections. Just huge.”
According to research from New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, Pennsylvania is one of 13 states where most or all voters use purely digital voting machines. This makes it impossible to double-check the count. Paper-backed machines, by comparison, leave a literal paper trail — either via a paper ballot that’s scanned into an optical reader, or with a receipt that’s printed off after each vote is cast.
Fears that US votes are in danger of being “hacked” have become prominent after a string of high-profile digital security stories during the 2016 election. Government officials have confirmed that Russian hackers compromised voter registration rolls, but say there’s no evidence their content was actually altered. Security researchers have also shown time and time again that individual voting machines are vulnerable to hackers, but that because the devices aren’t networked together, there’s no great threat that the entire system will be hacked, and votes changed at a large scale.
Experts agree, though, that the voting machines used by states are dangerously out of date and unreliable. Updating them needs to happen, and if a paper-trail makes them more secure, it seems a worthwhile change. Last year, the swing-state Virginia returned to using paper ballots in state elections. Pennsylvania looks like it will follow — when it can find the funds.