On Election Day November 7, instead of casting your vote on a touch screen voting machine or other modern device, you will be handed a paper ballot.
At this time in American history when most of our civic and financial transactions are conducted electronically – including casting votes for elective offices – Virginia voters will using paper ballots.
Virginia’s electoral apparatus was among the 21 states attacked or “hacked” by the Russian cyber goons during the last presidential election, although it is believed their efforts did not change any outcomes. Nevertheless, the interference is believed to have contributed to the election of Donald J. Trump candidate Hillary Clinton, who was expected to win based on media and polling claims.
The process of returning to paper ballots was speeded up due to the General Election come November.
Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states casting ballots for Governor. Virginia is also casting ballots for its House of Delegates.
“The issue here is not whether it’s hackable or not,” said Edgardo Cortes, the Virginia Commissioner of Elections, in an interview. “The issue is if you end up with some kind of question, you have those paper ballots you can go back to.”
The Department of Homeland Security last month notified Virginia and 20 other states about Russian efforts to hack their election systems in 2016.
Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently told reporters he was concerned Russians will continue to try to interfere with U.S. balloting, especially in swing states such as Virginia.
“To make a change, even on the national level, doesn’t require penetration into 50 states,” Warner said. “ . . . You could pick two or three states in two or three jurisdictions and alter an election.”
“A state like mine, in Virginia, and in New Jersey, in 34 days, we have an election,” Warner said, noting DHS has pledged to offer additional assistance to the two states with gubernatorial elections in November.
Cortés said Russians never penetrated Virginia’s databases last year and only scanned some of the state’s “public-facing” websites, looking for opportunities or errors.
The Democrats want to win Virginia because President Trump shows support for the GOP entrant. He recently dispatched a Twitter message, noting that Dr. Ralph Northam, the Democratic party standard barrier, supported the South American drug gang which operated throughout the nation, including urban areas of Virginia.
According to Cortes, all of the Commonwealth’s cities, towns and counties will use paper ballots and electronic scanners on Nov. 7, ensuring voting and tabulation are secure.
Including those in Hampton Roads, Virginia detected Russian probing of its electoral system. Earlier this year, in July at the DefCon hacking conference, programmers successfully invaded 30 Direct Record Electronic (DRE) touch-screen machines, including some identical to those in use in Virginia, within 90 minutes.
The hackers then posted how they broke in and posted passwords that would allow copycats to mimic their actions.
In September the State Board of Elections decertified the touch-screen machines.
According to the Election Commission, 23 cities and counties including Norfolk Falls Church and Alexandria were instructed to get new equipment despite the closeness of the upcoming election.
Of the 2,439 voting districts only 140 are directly serving 190,000 of the state’s 5 million active voters.
According to a recent story in the Washington Post, the Falls Church Registrar, David Bjerke,said he spent $150,000 for the new equipment. Anna Leider, Alexandria’s registrar, said that city will spend about $594,000, money that had been in next year’s budget.
The local governments must pay to replace the electronic equipment. and many of the communities that were using touch-screen machines are in poor, rural areas. The state will arrange payments they can afford.
On election day, after a voter casts their choice, the ballot will be inserted into an electronic scanner to decide their decision. If the ballot is needed for a recount, it will be saved by local election officials according state guidelines.
The scanner will print out the results of the votes cast at a precinct. The tally will be secured on a thumb drive and will carried to the local election headquarters for the official canvass, or count, the next day.
But even before the recent fears about Russian hacking into state and local elections systems, most of the operations were never connected to the internet, unless results were dispatched via email or cell phone.
Virginia elections officials pointed out that the new system will not be attached to the Internet. The polls books or registration rosters or “polling books” are retained on stand-alone laptops, and are backed up with paper printouts.
Activists concerned about the lack of a paper trail in electronic voting persuaded the General Assembly in 2007 to prohibit local registrars from replacing electronic voting machines with other electronic machines and instead to return to paper balloting.
The deadline for completing that transition was supposed to be July 1, 2020.
According to recent media reports and the Virginia State Board of Elections, that transition accelerated in 2015 when hundreds of WINVote machines were decertified after voters, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), complained they had trouble casting ballots.
The WINVote machines, which were prone to crashing and vulnerable to cyber attacks, were dubbed “America’s worst voting machines” by Wired magazine, in part because of poorly secured WiFi features used to tally votes.
By Leonard E. Colvin