The State Board of Elections on Friday certified the voting systems of three vendors for use in North Carolina elections.
The newly approved systems, which are all used in other states, are:
Certification means North Carolina’s 100 counties may consider these systems to replace aging voting machines and provide new options for voters with disabilities beginning in 2020. County boards of elections and county commissioners will ultimately decide which voting systems are best for their county’s voters.
Most counties will continue to use hand-marked paper ballots fed into tabulators at the polling place as the primary voting method. (See N.C. Voting Systems Map.) Elections systems currently certified in North Carolina – including the M100 and DS200 precinct-based ballot scanners and vote tabulators used to count paper ballots – remain certified.
“We are a big state,” said State Board Chair Damon Circosta. “Today, we have offered counties a selection of vendors who meet state and federal requirements of increased security and reliability, while giving election administrators on the front line of democracy flexibility to choose what is best for their communities.”
The State Board’s consideration of new voting systems was spurred in part by state laws prohibiting the use of touch-screen, direct-record-electronic devices (DREs) that do not produce paper ballots, including iVotronics, beginning December 1, 2019.
“The 2020 election will be the first time in decades we have an election where every voter will cast a paper ballot,” Circosta said.
By federal law, each polling place must provide the same opportunities for access and participation to voters with disabilities as it does to voters without disabilities. Ballot-marking devices, such as the systems certified Friday, fulfill that mandate, providing independent voting options for people with disabilities, as well as those with limited language proficiency and other groups that otherwise would be severely limited in accessing the ballot.
Ballot-marking devices allow voters to enlarge font sizes, change screen contrast, hear their choice read aloud and even use their own accessible device, such as a sip and puff, to independently cast a secret ballot.
Prior to today’s meeting, the only accessible voting systems certified in the state were the iVotronic and the Automark. The iVotronic currently serves more than 2.4 million voters in North Carolina, either as the primary voting system or the accessible unit for voters with disabilities. The Automark, while meeting current certification standards, is no longer manufactured and only previously used units are available for lease or purchase.
“With the pending decertification of iVotronics, the newly certified systems will give counties options for complying with laws that ensure all eligible voters, with or without disabilities, can successfully cast their ballot,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections.
Before purchase or use of their equipment by any county, each vendor must post a $17.01 million bond or letter of credit to cover damages resulting from defects in the voting system. Within two business days of certification, vendors must provide the State Board executive director the statewide uniform price for each unit of equipment.
The vendors and county boards of elections must also host demonstrations of the voting equipment and test it in at least one precinct during an election. Dates and locations of regional demonstrations coordinated by the State Board will be announced soon.
“The state and county boards of elections will take steps to ensure that voters are educated on any new systems used in their counties in 2020,” Brinson Bell said.
In mid-June, the five-member State Board postponed a vote to certify new voting systems and amended its certification program to require vendors seeking certification to disclose information about company ownership. After the vendors provided ownership information, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security evaluated the responses for any potential national security concerns related to foreign ownership and did not identify any red flags.
The newly certified systems meet federal standards and are approved for use in elections by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission; they are all used in other states. Vendors were required to undergo North Carolina’s rigorous testing process, which included a simulated election and additional testing to ensure the systems are secure and function properly with the state’s election management system.
In late July 2018, the State Board hosted a public demonstration of the voting systems. A public comment period was held from July 27 to August 10, 2018. Board members also witnessed a demonstration of the voting systems at a board meeting on July 28.
Because no voting system is entirely free from vulnerabilities, the State and County Boards continue to implement safeguards throughout the elections process to ensure voting systems function properly and produce reliable results.
All machines must be tested for accuracy before each election. Post-election audits, some of which are designed to detect potential problems with machines or tabulation of results, are conducted by the county and state boards of elections with each election. Every county conducts a sample, hand-to-eye audit count of randomly assigned voting sites.