We must keep high standards for NC elections

Voting machines
Voting machines Staff Photographer

North Carolina has consistently ranked high in election integrity since we passed a tough verified voting law in 2005. But – in the name of “competition” – some folks want to take us back to the bad old days before the law was passed, when our standards were low to non-existent. We can’t let that happen.

Prior to 2005 our counties used 18 different types of voting machines, vendor support was infrequent, maintenance was limited, training was sparse, and security was a joke. Each county did their own thing with ballot printing, and few complied with federal laws and standards.

In 2004, we saw many election problems that came largely from decades of not having or complying with election integrity standards. We had a Florida-style meltdown in Carteret County when 5,000 votes were lost at one early voting location, which almost forced a $7.5 million statewide redo election.

After the meltdown, the General Assembly in August 2005 passed the Public Confidence in Elections Act with unanimous bipartisan support. The law created statewide standards administered by the State Board of Elections.

The law required counties to have machines, software, ballot designs, and more – all tested, certified and maintained as a system. The law further required post-election audits and collection and publication of election data for improving future elections. Finally, the law required vendors to put source code in escrow and to post a surety bond to pay for a statewide election re-do, with criminal penalties for non-compliance with the law.

The 2005 law transformed North Carolina from a Florida-style laughingstock in 2004 to being ranked No. 1 in 2006 on our ability to count votes and audit elections. We also were ranked as one of the top eight states in readiness for the 2008 general election.

Naturally, some vendors and their supporters complained that our standards were too high. We wisely refused to lower our standards, and by late 2005 all the vendors dropped away but one. The law didn’t mandate one statewide vendor — that’s just how it worked out.

Now that we need to replace some of the voting machines we bought in 2006, some folks want us to lower our standards to in the name of “competition” in election administration. Competition is good. By all means, let’s have a fair and rigorous bidding process for elections equipment and support – but not if it requires lowering our standards.

Multiple vendors and platforms with lower standards elevates risks and increases costs – and takes away the ability for counties to work with each other to help with equipment, upgrades, software or firmware questions, training and legal issues.

Our current sole-source arrangement allowed all 100 counties to make a few simple yet significant changes to further enhance security and prevent any potential “hacking” of our voting machines from Russia or anywhere else in our May 2018 primary. It’s worth noting that North Carolina’s voting machines have never been connected to the internet.

Some want to eliminate the surety bond required of election vendors since 2005. We must keep that bond – it holds vendors accountable for their products and services, and it’s affordable for any reputable voting machine company. Without it, we’d be as vulnerable as before passage of the 2005 law.

North Carolina must maintain current levels of election integrity, and we must be prepared with even more advanced security. We’ve been on the right path for more than a decade. Let’s keep it that way.

Chris Telesca is the founder of Wake Coalition for Verified Voting, an organization dedicated to election integrity, procedures and security issues in Wake County and across North Carolina.