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Sunday, April 18, 2021

With the world turned digital, federal elections are leaning heavily on old-fashioned paper

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The voter registration system was offline on Election Day 2016 — a hacking episode that served as a reminder of the perils of being completely dependent on computer programs for the most momentous day of your life.

Now, a lot of federal agencies are turning to manual voter registration to defend against further digital attacks. While paper in most elections is still a time-honored, albeit flawed, means of conducting business, its use has surged over the past decade. In 2012, nearly one in six voting-age Americans cast ballots with a pen or pencil, according to the Federal Election Commission, nearly twice the use in 2004.

“We have made inroads in voter registration technology, but we can never fully reach the goal of 100 percent and we can never replace the primary role of technology in voting,” said Dave Becker, the executive director of the National Association of Secretaries of State. “As voting technology continues to advance we need to ensure that it meets the high standards and requirements of our law, which make voting easier and more convenient, not more difficult and more burdensome.”

The agency’s data shows that voters cast an average of six paper ballots in states that have made significant changes to the way they conduct elections. Today’s voting officials still rely on pen and pencil for a significant portion of their operations, although Congress last month passed a bill calling for the elimination of those paper checks as quickly as possible.

Among other measures, the effort would create an online system where every federal vote would be recorded by the secretary of state and made available for comparison online within hours of a vote being cast.

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