Under the Dome

Election software that malfunctioned in Durham gets the go-ahead for NC use

Voting software that’s been under a cloud for months can be used in elections next week.

The State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement is appealing an administrative law judge’s decision Friday allowing counties to use software from a company called VR Systems that checks voters’ registration information.

Durham was using VR software on Election Day last year when a malfunction forced the county to switch to paper poll books. The glitch halted voting in some areas, and eight precincts extended voting hours.

The state elections board doesn’t want counties to use the software. The board hasn’t certified it, as required by law. In a court complaint, VR Systems said the elections board improperly revoked its license, and that some counties still want to use its product.

The company’s court complaint said Mecklenburg County used VR software in the September primaries, and Nash County used it in October, without problems and despite the state prohibition.

Last summer, The Intercept published a top-secret National Security Agency report that said VR was the target of a Russian cyberattack days before the election. The Department of Homeland Security told North Carolina officials a few months later that Russian hackers had not targeted the state. Still, the state elections board is examining laptops used in Durham for evidence of hacking.

Ben Martin, chief operating officer with VR Systems, said in a statement that the company was pleased with the administrative law judge’s ruling, and that Durham’s problems were not the company’s fault.

“On the Durham issue, an independent investigation and report, commissioned by the Durham County Board of Elections, concluded that VR Systems was not in any way responsible for issues involving a small number of check-ins at the beginning of Election Day in November 2016,” Martin said. “As for the hacking issue, there was a phishing attempt at VR Systems, but it was unsuccessful and no customers were impacted, including our customers in North Carolina. The judge had all of this information before him while ruling in our favor."

Durham is using state software this year. Wake uses paper poll books.

Counties that have used the VR software in the past are ready to use authorized alternatives, the state board said.

Twenty-one counties used VR software last year.

“While we understand the vendor’s desire to continue to operate in North Carolina, it is our responsibility to the public to ensure that our elections are secure and compliant with North Carolina law,” Kim Westbrook Strach, the state elections board’s executive director, said in a statement.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner

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