Virginia’s closely watched November 7 elections are days away and, in September, Virginia State Board of Elections decertified thousands of touchscreen voting machines after learning about security problems with those systems.
Virginia was one of sixteen states in which some counties used paperless, touchscreen voting machines that produce no independent record of a vote.
But paper is necessary for recounts or audits, according to Verified Voting, a nonpartisan election watchdog concerned with the impact of new voting technologies on election integrity. Verified Voting is the organization that encouraged the banning of touchscreens in Virginia and elsewhere.
Amid these rising tensions over hacking by foreign entities and loud, but unfounded voter fraud allegations, Montgomery County is using optical scanning systems and paper to address security worries.
“The county has 40 optical scanning machines and 30 that are ADA-compliant scanners,” Montgomery County General Registrar, Connie Viar said.
As registrar, Viar registers voters, maintains voting records and establishes precinct boundaries and polling locations for Montgomery County’s 25 precincts.
One complaint across the state was the expense of replacing touchscreen machines, especially in economically depressed areas. Government grants, now largely spent, were available through 2002 Help America Vote Act written to address issues and voter access following the 2000 election.
“We bought [the machines] in shifts starting in 2015. We bought them in batches so the county didn’t have to pay the whole expense. Because it’s a huge expense,” Viar said.
Each machine may cost $10,000 and, according to the manufacturer, Unisyn, they last between 5 and 8 years.
“Every one of our precincts had the new machines for the presidential election 2016,” Viar said, so the optical scanning procedure has become familiar to Montgomery County voters. A voter marks a paper ballot then inserts the ballot into an optical scanner on her way out. The optical scanner reads the voter’s marks and tallies the choices. When polls close, a printed record and the smart card are sent to county election officials.
None of the machines is connected to the Internet, identified as a hacking hazard, and there is a battery back-up in case of a power outage.
“We’re very confident in the machines we have,” Viar said.
Ease of use of machines, ballot design, voter access, and proper administration by poll workers all contribute to the accuracy of a vote.
A citizen can become an Officer of Elections to help at the polls by contacting email@example.com.
Virginia law requires an official identification card to be shown in order to vote.
“If you don’t have a Virginia Id., or a driver’s license, you can use a passport or a government issued id or a student or a work id,” said Viar.
People can get a free id cards at the Montgomery County Registrar’s office.
“We make them there and they can have a printed copy to use to vote immediately,” while they wait for the final copy to come from Richmond.
The Registrar’s office is at 755 Roanoke Street, Christiansburg Va 24073 or call (540) 382-5741