In the November 2019 election, voting machines in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, recorded votes so inaccurate that a full investigation was launched, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
After the investigation found the machines weren’t properly set up, voters grew apprehensive, questioning the legitimacy of the machines with the 2020 general election around the corner.
During that same election, the use of electronic voting processes in Philadelphia had a myriad of detrimental impacts, including an overly small font and prolonged wait times, in addition to an exorbitant tax cost. As a result, Philadelphia residents faced challenges in the voting process due to the inaccessibility and dysfunctionality of the electronic machines, according to WHYY.
Both incidents demonstrated the need for a more accurate and reliable voting system, which can be accomplished through the use of paper ballots as opposed to electronic machines.
In Northampton County, for example, invalid election results were fortunately corrected through the use of a backup paper ballots system, and these incidents bring to light the importance of ensuring accuracy in the American voting system, raising questions over whether or not entirely electronic voting should be foregone in favor of paper ballots.
As of Jan. 1, all 67 Pennsylvania counties have met Gov. Tom Wolf’s April 2018 order to institute a paper ballot system into practice before the 2020 presidential election, the Inquirer reported.
“The truth of the matter is that nothing is perfect but the most perfect way to vote, the most efficient way to vote, is a paper ballot because the process [is] not open to mistakes that are not made by the voter,” said Sandra Suarez, a political science professor.
Robin Kolodny, chair of the political science department, explained that in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, where she works as a voting machine operator, paper ballots are one of the many measures used to ensure accuracy in elections.
“There’s no actual electronic voting machine at all,” Kolodny said. “You get a paper ballot and a sharpie and you [fill in a] bubble. And then when you’re finished, you put it into a feeder that scans it and then the ballot gets spit into the bottom of the machine.”
With the 2020 general election approaching, it’s essential that our voting machines are as accurate as possible, particularly with growing skepticism toward validity in elections.
“There’s probably going to be more scrutiny of these types of issues than ever,” said Michael Sances, a political science professor. “You combine all this scrutiny of the election system combined with what’s going to be a very close election, the political climate and the skepticism of elections reinforce one another.”
However, Sances believes that local elections are much more likely to be affected by machine errors than national elections.
“The national level is just so broad that it washes out unless it’s a super close election. Local blips are not going to push that around. At the local level, the little blips are a bigger deal for them,” Sances said.
While the use of new technology might lend itself to speed and efficiency, the most important aspect of conducting elections is that the results are correct. And the best way to ensure accurate results is to make sure these processes are not entirely reliant on machines and an analog backup mechanism, like a paper ballot, is in place.
“The advantages of a paper ballot are that you don’t have to rely on an electronic system to count your votes properly,” said Jordan Laslett, a master’s in public policy candidate. “If a small wait in line is the price I have to pay to do my civic duty, I’m willing to pay that.”
“On the local level, that’s where every vote counts,” Laslett added.