Ohio’s status as a large battleground state means that problems in Ohio could have a significant impact nationwide. Although Ohio is in better shape than a number of states because there are no paperless voting machines,The major concern is that about half the counties use Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines, though they are equipped with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) printers. In theory a VVPAT is supposed to accurately represent the choices the voter makes with the touch screen machine. In practice, VVPATs can be difficult and even confusing to read. Tests have shown that most voters do not bother to check the VVPAT. Therefore, VVPATs offer only limited protection against election theft. Someone wishing to steal an election could change both the electronic version of the voter’s choices and the VVPAT, while retaining the correct version on the DRE screen, so that the change would not be obvious to the voter. If the voter happens to notice and void the VVPAT, election rigging software could print and store in memory the voter’s correct choices. That way, the VVPAT results would match the electronic ones, even though the overall result was rigged.
Furthermore, most DREs, which when new were never very reliable or secure, are well past their use-by dates; it is likely that quite a few will fail. On the plus side, Ohio, unlike most states, requires emergency paper ballots that are supposed to be used if any machine fails. This is a very important provision that must be enforced to help prevent voter disenfranchisement that can stem from an insufficient number of functioning machines, and the accompanying long lines of people waiting to vote. Ohio allows voters to request paper ballots when there are no machine failures, also a plus.
Without a random post-election manual ballot audit to check the correctness of the outcomes reported by the voting machines, the use of paper ballots and VVPATs is pretty meaningless. Fortunately, in response to a court order from a case brought by the League of Women Voters, in 2012 the Ohio Secretary of State issued a Directive (not part of Ohio’s election code) that mandates publicly viewable post-election 5% manual random audits in even numbered years, with the presidential race included in the audits. Audits cannot begin until after results are certified by local election officials; the Directive allows the official vote totals in the affected contest to be changed before the Secretary of State certifies the results if the audit results differ from the voting machine results. While not perfect, the Directive is a positive step.