As general election results trickled in last week at the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Charleston, wife Krista and I were watching the drama unfold in the second-floor courtroom.
This exercise in representative democracy is as routine as the calendar, but each election brings its own set of unexpected challenges to the officials charged with overseeing them.
In recent years, there seems to have been an uptick in the frequency of problems related to the voting apparatuses themselves.
Tallahatchie County, like many counties across the state and around the nation, uses the Diebold TSx touch-screen voting machine.
Despite their best efforts to ensure that they are as ready as can be for each political cycle — for instance, officials with the circuit clerk’s office, Tallahatchie County Election Commission and Tallahatchie County Democratic Executive Committee are involved in performing required logic and accuracy testing on each voting machine before every election — these sophisticated manmade gadgets are at any time subject to failure.
For various reasons, they are doing just that, causing undue delay and frustration with the voting process.
While voters are presently able to vote by “emergency” paper ballot when a touch-screen machine malfunctions, we have heard about cases where some people, frustrated at it all, simply opted to walk away from the polls rather than vote by special ballot or stick around until a machine was operable.
Since they do not connect to the internet, the touch-screen machines are not subject to long distance electronic tampering of the “Russian interference” type, but there is reportedly the potential for in-person hacking to manipulate the vote count if someone has the tools and know-how.
With over 50 of the touch-screen devices in use during any given Tallahatchie countywide election, and with each machine housing a data card to record the electronic choices of voters at the precincts, the opportunity for such tampering, though unlikely, does exist.
These machines, purchased long ago via a state contract with the manufacturer, do not have the very latest security features, processors, etc. They have functioned well for a long time, but they are coming under increased scrutiny for any number of reasons.
Therefore, across the nation, many people are advocating for a return to paper ballots in conjunction with an optical scan system.
These are not your father’s paper ballots — those that were counted by hand by bleary-eyed election workers who toiled late into the night.
These would be marked by a voter and then scanned.
If the scanner malfunctioned, or someone suspected something had gone awry, there would be a tangible record of each voter’s intent — a paper ballot. Paper ballots do not require electricity or battery backup.
There is no foolproof voting method — each is subject to possible fraud — so this is not about greater security. It is about greater accountability.
There is, of course, the ever-present possibility that an optical scanning device may fail, too. But with a paper ballot, there is always the option of hand counting.