State may force city to replace voting machines

Jeremy Lazarus | 4/9/2015, 11:49 a.m.
Richmond, Henrico County and 27 other localities might be forced to immediately buy new voting machines for use in upcoming ...

Richmond, Henrico County and 27 other localities might be forced to immediately buy new voting machines for use in upcoming elections.

The reason: The state Board of Elections is considering banning the wireless touch-screen machines the city and the other localities successfully have used for 10 years.

The board is taking up the matter after receiving a report from staff at the state Department of Elections claiming that the aging WinVote equipment can be hacked or shut down by cell phones.

All of the localities are planning eventually to scrap the touchscreen machines and to shift to an optical-scan voting system. But immediate action by the state elections board would force them to take action far more quickly than planned, possibly for the June 9 primary.

Richmond, alone, has more than 400 of the touch-screen machines and could face spending up to $2.8 million to buy new equipment for the city’s 65 precincts, in addition to educating voters on their use. Henrico would have to replace the more than 800 machines used in its 92 precincts.

Kirk Showalter, Richmond’s voter registrar, plans to speak against any quick ban of the machines at a public hearing the state board will hold 11 a.m. Tuesday, April 14, in House Room D of the General Assembly Building in Capitol Square before making the decision.

Ahead of the meeting, Ms. Showalter said she is preparing for the primary on two tracks — one in which she can use the touch-screen machines and the other if she cannot.

She expressed disappointment that the report on the WinVote machines was submitted without any consultation with registrars like her who have successfully dealt with issues raised by the report.

She’s not alone. Mark Coakley, Henrico County’s registrar, also considers the state report overblown based on his experience with the touch-screen machines.

He said that the voting information on the machines is protected by passwords that have proven impossible to hack.“I’ve

never lost a vote,” he said.

He also noted the machines are not connected to the Internet and that the wireless system simply needs to be properly set up to avoid interference from other radio sources.

Fairfax City’s Electoral Board is even more outspoken. In a memo to the state board, the Fairfax board charged that the report is based on “selective information” and “little substantiated evidence.”