It’s the foundation of American democracy: voting.
Depending on where you are in the U.S., though, your election experience could look very different from that in your neighboring state or even just your neighbor.
“It really does depend on where you are in the country,” said Marian Schneider, who heads up Verified Voting, a non-profit, non-partisan group that advocates for better election security.
In particular, the group takes a closer look at when it comes to the use of computers in elections.
“We use computers in every aspect of election administration in this country,” Schneider said. “We have also historically underfunded our elections and not put the money into them that we need in order to run a computerized operation.”
So, what might voters encounter on election day? There are a few possibilities.
- A paper ballot, where a voter uses a pen or paper to mark their choices and that paper is then scanned and counted by a computer.
- A computerized device, where a voter presses a touchscreen to mark an electronic ballot, which then prints out a paper version that is scanned and counted.
- And there are paperless electronic machines, which have a completely computerized ballot, with no paper trail.
It is the last one, Schneider said, which raises big concerns because they are the most vulnerable to hacking.
“First of all, they make it difficult to discover if something has gone wrong,” she said. “And then, even if you are able to discover it, you can't recover from it.”
It can’t be recovered because there is no paper trail to serve as a backup. It’s a type of ballot currently used in all elections held in Louisiana, as well as some jurisdictions in nearly a dozen other states: Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee. Some of those are now in the process of phasing out the paperless devices, but upgrading election security is costly.
“What you just saw most recently is bipartisan agreement to fund elections at the state level, so Congress just agreed to provide $425 million, in addition to $385 million they allocated in 2018,” said Liz Howard, with the Brennan Center for Justice. “So, we’re getting close to $1 billion from the federal government to improve election security across the country."
While states continue grapple with the cost of replacing vulnerable and aging voting machines, Schneider said voters still need to do their part.
“There's only one surefire way to make sure your vote is not counted,” she said, “and that's if you don't show up at the polls.”