Kansas senator wants to ban voting machines that don’t provide paper trail

By: - November 11, 2020 5:54 pm

Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Galena, says he plans to introduce a bill at the start of the 2021 session that would make it illegal for county election offices to use electronic machines that don’t provide a paper copy of each ballot cast. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas Sen. Richard Hilderbrand plans to introduce legislation in the upcoming session that would ban county election officials from using electronic voting machines that don’t provide a paper backup.

The Galena Republican says he is worried about the potential for hackers to gain access to electronic machines and manipulate the outcome of an election. Counties across Kansas use a variety of polling place equipment, including touchscreen devices.

A state law passed in 2018 restricts new purchases of electronic voting systems to models that provide a paper printout of each ballot cast. Four counties still use direct-recording electronic machines, or DREs, that don’t provide a paper trail.

“The fact that DRE’s are extremely vulnerable to fraud is not a question,” Hilderbrand said. “Experts unilaterally agree they are bad practice, but Kansas is moving way too slowly in upgrading machines. Protecting our election process is understandably of the utmost importance to Kansas voters.”

J. Alex Halderman, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, said no one has ever documented a case of a voting machine being hacked in the United States, but the machines are thought to be vulnerable.

“Over the last 15 years,” Halderman said in a pre-election briefing, “security researchers like me have had the opportunity to study many of the voting machines used in the United States. And in virtually every case where independent scientists have had access, we’ve found that it would be possible for attackers to install malicious software on voting machines and actually change the election totals that they report.”

A map of Kansas at VerifiedVoting.org shows that most counties use hand-marked paper ballots and/or machines that provide a paper audit trail. Butler, Geary, Kingman and Sumner counties use DREs without a paper audit trail.

Davis Hammet, a voter rights advocate, said election officials in past sessions have objected to Hilderbrand’s proposal to make DREs illegal because they can’t afford to replace their machines.

“Everyone agrees we need to get rid of DREs,” Hammet said. “The only debate is between the state assisting the counties or just creating an unfunded mandate.”

Hilderbrand’s proposal doesn’t include funding. The senator said counties could apply for federal grants.

“I am certain counties could work to get machines without using local funds but need the legislative incentive because voters deserve to know preserving the integrity of our elections is a priority,” he said.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.

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