In light of Russia's successful attempts to undermine U.S. elections in 2016, states across the country are returning to paper ballots in an effort to counter foreign influence.
Top election officials around the country are growing increasingly alarmed about this fall’s midterm elections, with a drumbeat of dire warning signs that Russia is determined to influence them. And many are concerned that President Trump has not focused on the potential for more attacks on America’s election system like the one Russia launched in 2016.
The fact that electronic voting systems can be hacked makes a paper ballot system more attractive, and when it comes to the uncertainty of foreign interference, paper ballots will likely provide more assurance to voters that their votes will actually count.
Election experts agree that distrust of the U.S. election system is Russia's goal - not necessarily swaying the results in favor of any particular candidate.
“It is high risk and questionable reward to actually try and change an outcome of an election in the US,” said David Becker, founder and executive director the Center for Election Innovation and Research. “What you can do is a low-risk, high-reward proposition — which is what the Kremlin has been doing — which is be open about your intent to mess with our elections, be discovered, and then let the American people sow their own doubt about their system.
“This is really about whether the voters have trust in our method of choosing our leaders, which is essential for our democracy,’’ he said. “Russia has been absolutely essential in diminishing that trust.”
But Russia might have more to fear from state elections officials than the federal government when it comes to thwarting its efforts.
Operations are underway to partner electronic and paper ballots in some states, like Pennsylvania, and in others there is movement toward a fully paper ballot system - already implemented in Virginia and Massachusetts and on its way in Georgia.
“I’ve always been in favor of paper ballots, even when it was fashionable to use electronic systems,” said Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin. “You take the card, you mark your choices, you take it to the box. You ensure it’s counted. All the cards are retained. If there’s a question you can go in and count the cards.”