Tennessee Democrats are renewing their push to back up electronic voting machines with paper records, amid warnings that hackers will try to influence this year's elections.
Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper and other Democratic lawmakers are calling for voters to get receipts wherever they cast their ballots. Most Tennessee voting precincts rely on electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper record.
The purpose of the receipts would be to catch hackers if they change the results recorded on electronic machines. But Tennessee election officials say that's not the main threat they face.
A bigger danger is miscreants sowing misinformation — through social media or by changing the unofficial results posted on election nights — in a bid to create distrust in the outcome. They also note that past attacks have targeted registration records and voter profiles, not the machines themselves, which are harder for hackers to get to because they're not connected to the internet.
Still, Cooper argues a paper record would have value by assuring Tennesseans their votes were correctly tallied.
"Paper ballots will help with confidence," he told reporters Friday. "It will give people what they expect from any store in America, something like a receipt. It gives the ability to audit what has just happened."
But Cooper has little power to change the voting system, because the decision of which voting machines to use falls to state governments, not Congress.
So Cooper is asking Secretary of State Tre Hargett — who oversees elections in Tennessee — to back a measure, Senate Bill 2090, that Democrats have filed in the state legislature. It would require new machines that print out paper receipts in every precinct. A hearing that bill is scheduled for this week.
The machines would cost local election commissions about $9.5 million up front, according to state analysts. The state would have to spend about $4.8 million every four years and local governments that same amount every two years to operate the machines.
But Tennessee has $29 million in the bank to spend on such machines, Cooper notes. He believes it would be possible to have them deployed for this fall's elections, if officials start now.
A spokesman for Hargett says cybersecurity is a top priority and adds there's no evidence Tennessee's elections have been impacted by hackers. The spokesman did not say whether Hargett would support the legislation, though he notes the timing could be problematic.
"Typically, any equipment upgrades are done during non-election years to allow time for proper training and implementation without disrupting an election cycle," he said in an email. "To date, counties across Tennessee have spent more than $35 million in HAVA funds in voting system upgrades. This is in addition to improvements for voter registration, military voter and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance."