RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia State Board of Elections voted Friday to ban use of touch-screen voting machines in November’s closely watched gubernatorial contest, over concerns the equipment can be hacked.
The three-person board voted unanimously at a hastily arranged meeting to decertify touch-screen voting machines, which are still used by counties and cities around the state. The vote came after a closed-door briefing on potential vulnerabilities to the touch-screen systems.
“It was enlightening, to say the least,” said board member Clara Belle Wheeler, who said she had originally intended not vote for decertification because of the closeness to the Nov. 7 elections.
The state said it is keeping information about these vulnerabilities private because other states use these touch-screen voting machines. Virginia and New Jersey are the only states holding statewide elections this year.
Virginia elections officials said the decision to decertify the machines was partly motivated after a demonstration at a hacking conference, known as DEF CON, earlier this year showed how that the touch screens could be hacked easily.
Some localities objected to the move, saying the risks of vote totals being manipulated on the machines were being overhyped.
Election officials from the city of Norfolk said in a letter that a vote to decertify “would be like screaming ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theatre.”
Some of the counties using touch-screen machines are in economically depressed areas of the state that have not been able to afford voting machine upgrades.
Department of Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortes said there were 22 cities and counties in different parts of the state that use touch screens, but 10 of these had either signed contracts for new equipment or were in active negotiations for new equipment. He said he was “very confident” that the November elections would not impacted by the board’s vote to decertify.