A proposal for improving Indiana’s election security by adding small printers to thousands of electronic touch-screen voting machines is being criticized by voting rights groups as relying on ineffective and outdated technology.
An Indiana Senate committee is scheduled to consider a bill Monday that includes moving up the deadline for counties to add such devices to any paperless voting machines to July 2024, 5-1/2 years earlier than current state law.
The Indiana League of Women Voters, Indiana Vote by Mail and other groups argue that the state should end the use of all such machines and have all counties use paper ballots that voters mark before they are scanned for counting.
The voting rights organizations said in a letter Thursday to legislators that the printer technology relies on lightweight thermal paper that is easily damaged and lets voters see only a portion of their ballot at a time through a small window. They call the estimated $2,600-per-machine price tag “an extraordinary cost for a poor solution.”
“For less money, Indiana could outfit all its counties with paper ballots for all elections and brand-new, updated tabulating scanners and assistive ballot marking devices that provide voters with a durable, auditable record of their votes that can be used in post-election audits and recounts,” the letter said.
Nearly two-thirds of Indiana’s 92 counties use touch-screen machines, according to an Indiana secretary of state’s office report. That includes several of the state’s largest counties, such as Lake, Allen, Hamilton and Tippecanoe.
The state began paying in 2019 for counties to add printers to some of those machines but has allowed paperless machines to remain in use through 2029.
The Indiana House last month endorsed moving that deadline up to 2024, but the debate on the bill focused on Republican-backed provisions tightening the state’s mail-in voting rules.
It is unclear how much adding printers statewide would cost. A legislative staff analysis with this year’s bill estimated the cost at nearly $13 million, while the secretary of state’s office sought $75 million for the work in 2018 before scaling back the request to $6 million with the aim of upgrading at least 10% of the paperless machines.
Republican House Speaker Todd Huston called adding the devices “an important public policy” and that he expected legislators would approve funding for counties to meet the 2024 deadline.
Democrats have argued that state government’s projected $5 billion in cash reserves gives it plenty of money to improve voting machine security rather than focusing on making it tougher for people to cast ballots by mail.
Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis said many counties made “a terrible decision” when they bought “dangerous machines.”
“Those are the single greatest threat to voter integrity in the state of Indiana and they have been since the day people bought those touch screens that didn’t have a paper trail,” DeLaney said.
Election security experts have urged the adoption nationwide of paper-based voting systems, saying they are less vulnerable to manipulation and election workers can use those records to audit results.
Indiana remains among a handful of states still with widespread use of paperless machines, according to the nonprofit group Verified Voting, which was among the organizations objecting to the Indiana proposal.
Bill sponsor Rep. Tim Wesco, an Osceola Republican, said he had “full faith in the efficacy” of the printers, especially with county clerks who oversee local elections supporting the proposal during House committee testimony.
Republican Secretary of State Holli Sullivan, who took office last March, supports the upgrade plan that was started by her predecessor. Sullivan’s office said adding the printers will “increase voter confidence and improve the ability to conduct post-election audits and recounts.”