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Arizona’s polling infrastructure is all paper ballots, even for those with disabilities

By: - November 2, 2020 1:20 pm
Maricopa County

One of the machines that was able to be hacked at DEFCON at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Arizona is one of 20 states where every single polling place has both hand-marked paper ballots and ballot-marking devices for people with a disability. 

The majority of Arizona voters cast their ballots by mail: In most years, early voting accounts for about 80% of the vote, and this year has seen record voting levels. But those who go into a polling place to vote Tuesday will be using a paper ballot unless they request other means to do so. 

Arizona differs from states like Texas, which uses a variety of different means for voters across the state, according to data collected by researchers at Verified Voting. Only 11% of the Lone Star State uses hand-marked paper ballots, and nearly 36% of the state uses electronic voting machines without an electronic paper trail for all voters. 

Other states, like Oklahoma, use hand-marked paper ballots for all voters, but also use electronic voting machines — also known as Direct Recording Electronic Systems or DREs — without an electronic paper trail for voters who can’t use paper ballots. 

In Arizona, voters who are hard of hearing or visually impared use special ballot marking devices, often referred to as BMDs. In 2002, BMDs started being introduced as part of the Help America Vote Act

A BMD is different from a DRE in that it creates a human-readable paper ballot. DREs create an electronic ballot that is often stored in the computer’s memory. 

In Arizona, none of the voting devices require a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail, or VVPAT, as none of the systems used by election officials across the state record votes electronically. 

Groups like Voter Verified contend that jurisdictions that rely primarily on DREs are unsafe. 

“Recording people’s votes directly to computer memory is inherently unsafe because voters cannot observe and verify their own votes,” the group wrote in a policy paper. “Equipment failure or malicious subversion may be undetectable — and nobody can prove that they didn’t occur.”

In fact, the security of voting machines and their infrastructure has been a topic of national discussion as national regulation on their security has been absent. Even some BMDs in use by Arizona officials have been found to be prone to hacking and attack, although an attacker would need direct access to the equipment. 

This is the first year that no Arizona counties are using DREs. In 2018, Coconino, Maricopa and Pima counties all used DREs, but they all had VVPATs, according to Verified Voting. 

In 2016, La Paz and Yuma counties also used DREs with VVPATs. From 2006 to 2012, almost the entire state except Graham and Cochise county were using DREs with VVPATs.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.