RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) — Voting rights advocates sued North Carolina election authorities on Wednesday over new voting machines that they claim lack security and pose a public health risk amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Russian hacking concerns that arose after the 2016 presidential election prompted state officials to ditch old methods and scramble for voting systems with higher levels of security.
Like several other states, North Carolina recently adopted ExpressVote XL voting machines in order to curb worries that the integrity of future elections could be vulnerable to outside manipulation.
Critical of the machines, the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court against the North Carolina State Board of Elections and the elections boards of more than 20 individual counties.
Kathleen Barnes, Enrique Gomez, Harriett Mendinghall and Glencie Rhedrick are North Carolina voters who are individually listed as plaintiffs in the case, which challenges the state’s use of ExpressVote systems.
“The ExpressVote’s defects and security flaws create the risk that Plaintiffs, together with other North Carolina voters, will have their votes rendered meaningless or, worse yet, deemed cast for the wrong candidate,” wrote attorneys with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who are representing the cases’ plaintiffs.
Lawyers with Free Speech For People and with the firm Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton also represent the fair-elections watchdogs in the lawsuit.
Their 30-page complaint urges the court to stop elections boards in North Carolina from using the machines during future elections and to opt instead for hand-marked paper ballots they say are more accurate.
The very same model was used by Pennsylvania voters on last November’s Election Day, drawing nationwide criticism after votes were incorrectly counted.
Using the ExpressVote system, a voter marks a ballot using a 32-inch touch screen that prints a paper record of the selected choices. The voter then physically carries the slip to an optical reader, which scans a barcode to determine the combination of candidates they picked.
The vendor of the system, Election Systems & Software, touts a “verifiable paper record,” encryption and audit logs as some of several security features. The company attributed the ballot miscount in Pennsylvania to a programming error.
However, plaintiffs say they lack appropriate cyber security measures and could be used to manipulate votes— a claim refuted by the vendor.
“Attackers are capable of infiltrating the ExpressVotes to cause them to print ballots that differ from voters’ actual selections. Such an attack might change only the barcode, the portion of the ballot that scanners count,” the challengers claim, adding that a ballot-hacking of this nature would be invisible to the human eye.
Touch-screen technology for voting becomes especially problematic, the advocates say, as a contagious virus sweeps the globe.
“If poll workers clean each machine after every voter, particularly at the necessary level of care recommended by ES&S, voter lines will increase dramatically in every county, increasing the risk of long lines and voters standing in large crowds in close quarters,” they wrote.
The process could threaten democracy by causing clogged polling places, they claim, as well as threaten the lives of voters and poll workers.