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Cybersecurity

Expensive, Glitchy Voting Machines Expose 2020 Hacking Risks

Paper ballots may be safer and cheaper, but local officials swoon at digital equipment.

A man casts his ballot at polling station in New Jersey in 2016.

A man casts his ballot at polling station in New Jersey in 2016.

Photographer: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP via Getty Images

The first sign something was wrong with Northampton County, Pennsylvania’s state-of-the-art voting system came on Election Day when a voter called the local Democratic Party chairman to say a touchscreen in her precinct was acting “finicky.” As she scrolled down the ballot, the tick-marks next to candidates she’d selected kept disappearing.

Her experience Nov. 5 was no isolated glitch. Over the course of the day, the new election machinery, bought over the objections of cybersecurity experts, continued to malfunction. Built by Election Systems & Software, the ExpressVote XL was designed to marry touchscreen technology with a paper-trail for post-election audits. Instead, it created such chaos that poll workers had to crack open the machines, remove the ballot records and use scanners summoned from across state lines to conduct a recount that lasted until 5 a.m.