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Voting machine reliability questioned

In the rush to replace insecure, unreliable electronic voting machines after Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, state and local officials have scrambled to acquire more trustworthy equipment for this year’s election, when U.S. intelligence agencies fear even worse problems.

But instead of choosing simple, hand-marked paper ballots that are most resistant to tampering because paper cannot be hacked, many are opting for pricier technology that computer security experts consider almost as risky as earlier discredited electronic systems.

Called ballot-marking devices, the machines have touchscreens for registering voter choice. Unlike touchscreen-only machines, they print out paper records that are scanned by optical readers. South Carolina voters will use them in Saturday’s primary.

The most pricey solution available, they are at least twice as expensive as the hand-marked paper ballot option. They have been vigorously promoted by the three voting equipment vendors that control 88 percent of the U.S. market.

Some of the most popular ballot-marking machines, made by industry leaders Election Systems & Software and Dominion Voting Systems, register votes in bar codes that the human eye cannot decipher. That’s a problem, researchers say: Voters could end up with printouts that accurately spell out the names of the candidates they picked, but, because of a hack, the bar codes do not reflect those choices. Because the bar codes are what’s tabulated, voters would never know that their ballots benefited another candidate.

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