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The Strange Case of the Ballot Marking Device

Picture of Donald Trump and Bar Code

A new voting machine, the ballot marking device, was instituted in Georgia, Los Angeles and counties in Pennsylvania for primary elections this year. The systems failed spectacularly.

Manufactured and sold by Dominion Voting Systems and Elections Systems and Software, Art Levine of Washington Monthly reports that BMDs have exponentially higher software-related security risks compared with traditional paper ballot/scanner systems. And despite messaging to the contrary, ballot marking devices do not produce a verifiable voter paper trail.

The Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and the Pennsylvania Republican Party have all filed motions in support of a court mandate for all Pennsylvania counties to use ballot marking devices this fall.

Levine reports that ballot marking devices verify a voter’s registration status through an electronic voter registration database and produces a voter-specific ATM-style card at a polling location. The voter inserts this card into a machine where voting choices are selected on a touch-screen. The device records the choices and produces a paper printout which the voter returns to a poll worker with the voter-specific card.

The image on the paper printout is not of the ballot with the voter’s choices represented, but rather a bar or QR code that ostensibly contains the information for that voting event. The voter has no way of knowing whether or not the ballot marking device has recorded the vote accurately. The physical evidence of the voting event does not optically display the completed ballot. It displays code that it purports to represent the voting event.

Scrutineers founder Emily Levy tells Levine that election officials using BMD technology should be asked, “When you are called upon to prove that these election results are correct, how is it that you think you’re going to be able to do that?”

During Georgia’s June 9 primary, hundreds of polling places in and around Atlanta, a city that is 52% African American, experienced problems with BMD systems. Voters waited in lines for up to 8 hours. BMD machines malfunctioned, printers broke down, voter cards were used incorrectly, electronic voter register systems were offline. Locations hadn’t printed voter registration lists and lacked backup ballots for printing.

Two-thirds of Pennsylvania counties that evaluated ballot marking devices in 2020 chose paper ballots and scanners instead. The New York Times reported that in the state’s Northampton County, ballot marking device systems’ multiple failures included tallying just 164 votes, out of 55,000 ballots cast, for a leading Democratic judicial candidate.

Republican state legislators are attempting to mandate the use of BMDs in Tennessee’s Selby County which is 52% African American. In 2015, forty percent of the machine votes from predominantly black precincts were not counted by the county’s central tabulator.

In this November’s presidential election, 20% of US voters will vote on ballot marking devices including voters in Texas, Ohio and North Carolina.

Read Art Levine’s September 23rd article, Donald Trump’s Favorite Voting Machines in Washington Monthly.

Learn more here about Democratic Group’s Defend the Vote campaign.

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