The Missouri Senate is considering a bill that will forbid the use of electronic voting machines and require the exclusive use of traditional paper ballots.
The bill has already passed the House with a 108-31 vote. State Rep. Paul Curtman presented the bill to Missouri Senate last week.
As stated in House Bill No. 2208, no electronic voting systems will be approved unless meeting specific guidelines and “The official ballot shall be a paper ballot that is hand-marked by the voter or, in the case of disabled voters who need assistance, by a paper-ballot marking device designed to assist the disabled.”
Assistant political science professor Daniel Smith shared his view on the bill.
“I’m not a fan of closing off options, and electronic voting technology is likely to improve over time,” Smith said. “Paper is the most stable and secure, as the physical records are easier to verify and less subject to outside manipulation. Paper ballots are also easier to deal with in the event a voter makes a mistake and wishes to correct their ballot. On the other hand, paper ballots take longer to count, are more likely to raise conflicts regarding a voter’s intent...”
If the bill is enacted, all employed electronic voting machines will be phased out after they reach the end of their effective life. Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, Missouri will not replace any direct-record electronic touch-screen vote counting machines that experience malfunctions or add any additional machines.
Missouri will still permit the use of electronic counting systems and paper ballot marking devices to assist disabled voters.
The eradication of electronic voting machines would be done in hopes of protecting the safety of votes and defending against potential hackers.
After a scare involving Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential elections, where 39 states’ systems were targeted but fortunately evaded the alteration of votes, multiple states throughout the nation made moves to end the use of electronic voting machines.
Freshman and previous Senate Republican Caucus staff intern Mary Tess Urbanek advocated for paper ballots, due in part to her experience working during the 2016 presidential election vote-calculation process.
“I personally think paper voting is the best choice. It takes away the room for error in regards to something going wrong with technology,” Urbanek said. “Even in your classrooms, think about how many times technology has gone wrong, and then it screws up the rest of the lecture. I think that you don’t want something as important as letting your voice be heard become obstructed by technological error.”
Urbanek stressed the importance of avoiding potential security risks associated with electronic ballots.
“I think today, we are living in a society where it’s really easy for someone to take away something from you via the internet,” Urbanek recognized. “When our government is built on this idea that we get to pick whose in power, and we get to choose who we want to speak for us, we have to continue to protect that. I think by doing paper ballots we continue to make that our priority because there is a lot of room for error with electric stuff.”
In addition to providing increased security through lowering the risk of hacking, paper ballots are a more cost-efficient option.
Each machine costs approximately $5,000. St. Louis County alone has 1,500 electronic voting machines, amounting to $7.5 million.
Missouri Senator Bill Eigel, the original sponsor of the bill, expressed the magnitude of potential savings in an interview with MissouriNet.
“The machines cost $5,000 apiece, roughly,” Eigel said. “When the time comes that they need to replace the machines, sometime in the future, they won’t need as many machines. Now 1,000 machines at $5,000 apiece, that’s $5 million. That’ll buy 25 years of paper ballots.”
Twenty percent of votes in the United States are cast with no paper trail.
At this time, all Missouri counties use paper ballots to some extent. Approximately 24 counties across the state utilize electronic voting machines that do not require a paper ballot, but still leave a paper trail, according to US News and World Report.
Sophomore political science major Truman Wiles expressed the importance of consistency, saying they need to pick “one or the other” when it comes to paper ballots or electronic ballots.
“I happened to be in a county where they did it electronically, but I would think in a few counties over, they may not have that technology, so it’s done differently, which I don’t like,” Wiles said. “It’s not the same election then.”
Nodaway County, along with much of rural Missouri, relies solely on paper ballots, so this bill will have no effect.
Smith emphasized the importance of considering simplicity when choosing a voting method.
“America has been plagued with crappy voter turnout for generations, and anything that simplifies the process and builds voter confidence needs to be considered,” Smith said.