Amid fears of hacking, election officials told U.S. lawmakers they need more federal money to replace voting machines that are old or lack a paper trail.
Election officials face pressure to shore up their equipment before the 2020 elections, following reports that Russia attempted to hack election systems in 2016.
U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, who chairs a subcommittee on voting rights, said the United States lacks regulations for voting machines. Fudge suggested that one state bought faulty machines from the one she represents.
"I’m from Ohio by the way — a state that thought that our machines were so awful we got rid of them, but South Carolina bought them," she said at a May 8 hearing of the Committee on House Administration. "This is true. South Carolina bought all the machines we got rid of because they were not effective."
A week later, the South Carolina Election Commission wrote a letter to the committee accusing Fudge of making "inaccurate and misleading statements."
"At no point has South Carolina purchased machines for its current voting system once used in, but later decertified or otherwise discarded by, the State of Ohio," wrote Harrison Brant, the commission’s general counsel.
The machines that South Carolina uses were new when the state bought them in 2004, Brant wrote.
Time for PolitiFact to weigh in.
Here’s the short story behind our ruling: South Carolina did not buy castoff machines from Ohio. Both states bought electronic voting machines that experts found to be vulnerable to hacks.
"Hanging chads" in punch card machines in Florida in 2000, followed by a recount, led Congress to provide more than $3 billion for states to purchase new voting equipment.
In 2004, South Carolina spent $34 million to buy 12,000 iVotronic machines from Election Systems & Software. The machines allowed voters to cast ballots electronically, and they were used statewide starting in 2006. Over the years, counties purchased some additional machines, including some refurbished machines from Florida and Tennessee. But not Ohio.
The researchers evaluated equipment by a few companies that were used in Ohio: Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic, and Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold). The study examined multiple vendors because Ohio counties can select their own equipment.
The researchers found that all three systems lacked protections to guarantee a trustworthy election and were vulnerable to attacks.
"The security failings of the ES&S system are severe and pervasive," they wrote. "There are exploitable weaknesses in virtually every election device and software module, and we found practical attacks that can be mounted by almost any participant in an election."
The vendors disputed the findings, which set off a debate in Ohio and South Carolina about whether to get rid of electronic voting machines that lacked a complete paper trail.
The South Carolina Election Commission said the equipment was secure, and the election officials test it before elections to make sure.
That study wasn’t the first red flag about electronic voting equipment in Ohio.
In 2006, an elections panel issued a 400-page report that detailed what went wrong leading up to a botched May primary in Cuyahoga County, where it took about a week to count the results. Cuyahoga County, one of Ohio’s largest counties, includes Cleveland which is in Fudge’s district.
The report criticized decisions by the county’s top election officials and multiple breakdowns amid a changeover to Diebold electronic machines.
Diebold later spun off its election machines to Premier Election Solutions. After vote tabulation problems in November 2007, Cuyahoga ditched the machines.
The Ohio study isn’t the only one to raise concerns about electronic voting machines that lack a paper trail. In 2006, a team of computer experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology reported that they could find no way to verify the accuracy of votes cast on paperless touch-screens. But by then, many states had moved forward with purchasing such equipment. Criticism of such equipment has persisted, including in a recent study by Duncan Buell, a University of South Carolina computer scientist.
Fudge appears to have lumped together the electronic voting machines in Ohio and South Carolina.
When we asked Fudge’s spokeswoman for her evidence, she said Ohio got rid of Premier Election Solutions. We couldn’t find evidence that Brunner decertified that vendor, but she did sue them and the state won a settlement.
But South Carolina didn’t buy equipment from Premier Voting Solutions; it purchased machines from Election Systems & Software. (The company bought Premier Election Solutions in 2009, though it then sold the intellectual property a year later.)
"My statement was meant to convey that South Carolina bought the same type of machines, with the same defects as those in Ohio, and experienced similar problems," Fudge told PolitiFact in a statement.
The state remains confident in the equipment, commission spokesman Chris Whitmire told us. However, due to the age of the machines, South Carolina plans to buy a new system that will have a paper record of each voter’s ballot.
Fudge said that Ohio "thought that our (voting) machines were so awful we got rid of them but South Carolina bought them. This is true. South Carolina bought all the machines we got rid of, because they were not effective."
Her statement was confusing, and her explanation didn’t clear it up.
The state did not buy machines from Ohio.
A study commissioned by Ohio found multiple types of equipment were vulnerable from both of those companies. South Carolina continued to use the Election Systems and Software equipment despite the findings.
That doesn’t make Fudge’s version of the story more accurate. We rate this statement False.