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The Cumberland County Elections Board and Board of Commissioners will soon make a decision to acquire a new voting system for Cumberland County. They are being forced to purchase a new system because the State of Pennsylvania is correctly following Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, and other states by mandating that all voting systems in Pennsylvania have a viable way to audit the counting, tabulation, and reporting of votes cast in each election.

The method to assure that voting reflects the will of the people is through the use of “voter-verified paper ballots.” The current paperless direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting system is not viable because there is no way to audit the votes being cast by each individual voter in any valid or transparent manner. This assertion is reinforced by 103 computer experts who published a letter to the U.S. Congress on June 21, 2017 asserting that “too many polling stations across the nation are still equipped with electronic machines that do not produce voter-verified paper ballots.”

The current DRE system is solely dependent on computer programming with the potential to be manipulated by any “bad actor” intent on manipulating data to distort election results. Now that our county office-holders have a greater understanding of this fundamental flaw in our voting system, it is time for them to select a suitable replacement.

The commissioners like the paperless touch screen systems because they were low-cost, easy to manage, and they reduce stress and potential headaches on election days. However, making things cheap and easy does not make them better: in the case of voting and elections, there is a price for transparency, valid auditing, and system resilience. For elections management, making things cheap and easy might ruin the purpose and accuracy of voting.

History proves that Americans are professional cheaters when it comes to elections. This is well documented in Illinois (Chicago), Kentucky, West Virginia, and in almost every county and state in the U.S. at one time or another over the 230 year history of our nation. No person can assure that any voting system is fool-proof indefinitely because managers and programmers can change, and over time, any bureaucracy can alter its internal business model.

This is why we — the people of Cumberland County — need to be diligent with each ballot cast in every election, for every single year, and for decades and generations into the future. Fighting corruption in government is on-going; it is never completed because individuals of character and competence do not live forever. Human nature often challenges good governance with less than satisfactory individuals having traits associated with authoritarianism that include conventional, conservative, unimaginative mindsets; these are individuals with rigid ideas and closed minds.

Some people become obsessively ambitious, are devoid of any compassion toward others, and chronically practice what psychologist Norman Dixon and historian Barbara Tuchman call wooden headedness: “those who find it hard to accept and act upon information which does not accord with their systems of belief.”

It is essential that any new voting system possess an additional check on computer-voting, counting, tabulation and reporting of election results. The single most important criteria for selection of any voting system must be that it accurately reflects the will of the voters by assuring that there exists a valid auditing process to audit ballot counting, tabulation, and the reporting systems results. Other criteria such as “voter confusion” and “ease of use of poll workers” are secondary and actually superfluous factors because poll workers can be trained to troubleshoot problems, and voters can be given the service they deserve from tax-payer funded offices and officials.

This means that any new election system selected by the Cumberland County Board of Elections must have voter-verified paper ballots. A voter-verified paper ballot is a paper ballot that each voter is required to personally review before it is placed in a secure ballot container. Such ballots must then be stored in a location under a double-lock system to ensure that no single person can have access to such ballots.

Most important: if all paper ballots are not checked by each of the voters before they are deposited in a secure container, then we return back to the conditions of paperless voting, and the vote-tabulation or reporting programming can be manipulated and hidden from view. In other words, if voters are given the choice not to check their own paper ballot, then the unchecked ballots will cancel out the voters that do check their ballots, because everyone’s paper ballot becomes anonymous once it is dropped into the secured container. The unchecked ballots will undermine any valid attempt to audit all of the votes cast. Well-trained, competent, and diligent poll workers will ensure that the voter-verified paper ballot will work!

It is time for the County Board of Elections and the Board of Commissioners to learn from past mistakes and do the right thing by purchasing a voting system that will accurately and consistently reflect the will of the voters. Voter-verified paper ballots will assure that such a system can be audited in a transparent and valid manner. It will also give us resilience to counter potential cyber-attacks or programmer manipulation, and help overcome any unforeseen problems that often arise when complex and difficult operations such as elections are administered each year.

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Donald Travis is a resident of Carlisle Borough, a political science researcher, and served over six years as Director of Elections for Clermont County, Ohio.

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