NC elections board OKs late change to voting machines, ID rules for absentee ballots

Posted December 13, 2019 4:14 p.m. EST

— Months after approving three voting machine systems for next year's elections, the State Board of Elections on Friday agreed to allow one of the three vendors to swap out its approved system for a different model.

The move is the latest step in a long saga to replace older voting machines that federal and independent agencies consider to be insecure technology. State lawmakers have repeatedly called for the older machines to be phased out but have just as often pushed back the deadline for doing so.

A two-year battle between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders over control of the elections board also hampered efforts to certify new systems.

The board finally approved systems from three vendors – Elections Systems & Software, Clear Ballot and Hart InterCivic – in August. But ES&S recently notified state elections officials that it won't have enough of the approved machines available for the March 3 primaries and would need to substitute a slightly different system.

ES&S spokeswoman Katina Granger said the new system is functionally equivalent to the approved one and has been approved by testing at the federal level.

Critics called it a bait-and-switch, noting the system ES&S wants to use hasn't gone through the certification tests the state requires.

Board Chairman Damon Circosta and member Stella Anderson accused the company of a lack of honesty.

"In their zeal to sell their product, they put us in a very difficult position. They have not been forthright and candid with us, and that needs to change," Circosta said.

Anderson, one of three Democrats on the five-member board, was more pointed in her criticism.

"We are at a point where we have to have sufficient scrutiny, independent testing and evaluation and understanding as an agency of the technology. We cannot rely on vendor representations of these things," she said. "We need to stop letting a vendor put us in a situation where we circumvent normal processes in the certification of voting systems."

But Circosta voted with the two Republican board members to approve the new system.

"Counties have been asking us to certify voting systems for over two years – through several iterations of this board. We owe them that certainty," he said.

He also chided critics for what he called drummed up misplaced fears about the ES&S system.

"Every system that we’ve certified in North Carolina is secure and accessible. Counties have some tough decisions to make," he said. "But we’re going to be here every step of the way to make sure we get this right."

The board also voted unanimously to approve new rules for photo identification for mail-in absentee ballots.

No ID was required for mail-in ballots in the past, but the election fraud found in last year's 9th Congressional District race changed lawmakers' minds. Now, absentee voters will have to include a copy of a photo ID or a signed affidavit asserting their identity with their mail-in ballots.

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