Politics & Government

Activists push for ‘unhackable’ SC voting system

Activists are pushing for South Carolina to adopt a paper-ballot election system.

Several called for the change at the S.C. State House Wednesday, a day after the state Election Commission requested $60 million from the Legislature to buy new voting machines.

“Our central mission is to make government work,” said Holley Ulbrich, president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, “so we have to make sure we have a voting system with optically scanned paper ballots that is faster, easier and unhackable.”

A paper system would replace the current touchscreen-only voting machines that South Carolina has used since 2004. Those machines have been criticized as error prone and vulnerable to hacking.

“These machines are older than the iPhone,” said ACLU of S.C. director Shaundra Young Scott. “We want to show citizens can trust the system, and that South Carolina is a progressive state.”

The ACLU is backing a bill by state Rep. Terry Alexander, D-Florence, to require the state to adopt a paper-ballot system by 2022. Alexander said he wants to see a change after several voting machines in his district broke down on Election Day.

Catherine Fleming Bruce with the Black Voters Matter group said an independent paper trail of ballots cast is crucial to restoring voters’ faith in election outcomes. “Where there is a lot of debate about that, people tend to lose confidence that their vote counts.”

The Election Commission is accepting bids from vendors for new voting machines, all of which would have some kind of paper component.

Lynn Teague with the League of Women Voters said the state could move to a fully paper-ballot system with an optical ballot scanner for less than the requested $60 million.

“Then, you would have extra money for poll workers,” Teague said.

But Alexander said he didn’t want to dictate the kind of voting system the Election Commission ends up using. “I’ll leave that to the experts.”

Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.