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Lawmakers again asked to require paper ballots

Lawmakers again asked to require paper ballots

February 8th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Local News

The Missouri State Capitol is pictured in this file photo from 2012.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

Phillip Michaels, of University City, has been coming to Jefferson City for a decade, asking Missouri lawmakers to require all elections in the state to be done with paper ballots.

Although many Mid-Missouri and other outstate counties use paper ballots marked by hand, then read by an optical scanner, some of the state's largest counties use touch-screen or other kinds of computers — known as "direct record," or DRE, machines — to record a voter's choices.

"(This bill) can, potentially, reduce the cost of operating elections," Michaels said to members of the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee on Monday night. "For example, the average cost of St. Louis County's Elections Department was about $5 million in the four years just prior to the introduction of these machines.

"In the five years (after) the introduction of these machines, it was $7 million."

Each electronic voting machine costs about $5,000, Michaels said, and St. Louis County has 1,500 of them.

Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Washington, said this year's proposal has the same language as lawmakers previously have considered.

"The bill would phase out electronic ballots and they would be replaced with hand-marked ballots or with paper-ballot marking devices," Curtman told colleagues. "Our elections are only as secure as the people believe that they are, and although paper ballots are not fraud-proof, but they are hack-proof.

"The current machines we have right now are not fraud-proof or hack-proof."

Curtman said the change also would create "an auditable trail by which we can, actually, count each individual vote," especially when a re-count is required.

Cynthia Richards, also from St. Louis County, is co-director of Missouri's Coalition for Transparent and Secure Elections.

She told lawmakers Monday night that, at last July's "DefCon" conference for computer hackers, the experts had access to 30 different kinds of electronic voting machines "currently used in the United States, and were able to hack into every single one of them."

Virginia immediately de-certified its DRE machines after the hackers' success, Richards testified.

"Computer security professionals have been demonstrating for many years how easy it is to hack into these machines," she added, citing other examples where hackers were able to take control of the machines while they were in election settings — without being detected.

"The only possible way for us to know that the voting machines produce accurate results — and not the results desired by a hacker — is for us to have a software-free record of the vote," Richards said. "We specifically mean a hand-marked paper ballot.

"While computers can be, undetectably, hacked — so far, voters can't."

The machines are supposed to record a voter's ballot on a paper tape.

But, Dave Guest, of Lake St. Louis in St. Charles County, told the House committee: "Often, the paper tapes will jam while the machine continues to count and accept votes.

"This prevents accurate paper recounts, and shows that voters often do not verify the paper records."

Guest, who has a computer background, has worked elections in St. Charles and St. Louis counties.

He also told the lawmakers: "Machine malfunctions abound on these DREs."

And, he said, optical scanners — like the ones used in Cole County — actually "are faster and cheaper" than the electronic machines now used in Missouri's larger counties.

No one testified against the proposal.

Rep. Lindell Shumake, R-Hannibal, chairs the committee.

He said the panel will likely be asked next week to send the bill to the full House for debate.