Wyden, Blumenauer call for paper ballots nationwide
It may be an age of apps and emails, but Oregon lawmakers say only one technology can truly keep U.S. elections safe and secure: paper.
The Protecting American Votes and Elections (PAVE) Act was introduced by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, among others Democrats, in June. It would require every state to use printed ballots and conduct rigorous audits from a smaller sample after each vote.
The bill would require "hand-to-eye" recounts of every vote cast if the audit finds anything fishy. That includes human error and sloppy recordkeeping — though the legislators clearly have their eyes peeled for threats of foreign interference.
"Russia attacked our democracy in 2016, and we know they want to attack it again," Sen. Wyden warned during a press conference on Friday, Aug. 17. "Paper ballots give us a major advantage because it ensures that there is a paper trail."
Oregon lead the charge when it adopted the first-ever vote-by-mail system for the 1998 election — the same year that Sen. Wyden was elected to his first full term on Capitol Hill.
Other areas may need to taste the spur before they catch up. With just 81 days until the 2018 midterms, 22 states still don't require audits after any election, while many others only require recounts in a few precincts.
"We are harmed if any state is destabilized and raises questions about the authenticity, the integrity of the elections process," said Blumenauer, noting that an 11-year-old hacker was able to alter results on a replica of the Florida state election website at a convention last week.
"This is a national scandal," the congressman added during the meeting at the Bus Project nonprofit, located at 333 S.E. 2nd Avenue on Produce Row.
Also citing press reports, Wyden cast a harsh spotlight on Election Systems & Software — the leading producer of the nation's roughly 350,000 voting machines that are in active use. The company admitted earlier this year that it installed remote-access software on its machines.
"This violates cybersecurity 101," Wyden said. "The only thing they could have done worse would be to actually allow some of the ballot boxes to be set up on a Moscow street corner."
On the local level, many Democrats have been clamoring for Oregon to join with 10 other states that have pledged to ditch the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote. A bill to join the compact stalled during the legislative session in Salem this year.
State Sen. Lew Frederick said he, too, wasn't quite convinced.
"If we don't have the integrity of the elections system, the popular vote may not be a better way to go," he said.
The day was not without its lighter moments. Wyden joked that the crowd should sing "Happy Birthday" to Blumenauer, who celebrated his 70th birthday the day before on Aug. 16. Then a reporter asked if age had brought wisdom.
"I wish I felt wiser," Blumenauer responded. "I never thought that I would live to see things like this. But my commitment is elevated."