Is Bevin right about election ’transparency?’

Published 5:02 pm Friday, November 15, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin finally did the right thing Thursday when a recanvass showed no change in the results of last week’s election.

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But Bevin being Bevin, he couldn’t just admit defeat and congratulate his opponent. He announced he wouldn’t contest the results and he wished Andy Beshear and Kentucky well in the next four years, but he also claimed unnecessarily — and in direct contradiction to the actual results of the recanvass — that the recanvass had uncovered changes in the vote totals.

Then, Bevin also took the opportunity during his concession speech to complain there isn’t any “real sense of transparency” with voting in Kentucky. Here’s part of what he said:

“We do not have checks and balances. Whether you are a liberal or a conservative, whether you vote one way or another, we should make sure that we have integrity in the election process and the ability to ensure that when somebody goes in — especially when there is no paper ballot, when it’s 100% digital and electronic — to make sure that people have confidence.

“Because if the people lose confidence in their ability to actually know that the vote they cast is the one that was tabulated for the person they intended it to be for — if we lose that ability, I don’t care your ideology, we lose something in America that is the uniqueness of our nation.

“And we really can’t afford to see that confidence erode because that’s a confidence on both sides of the aisle. We’ve got to be able to have integrity and I would encourage to ensure that the roles are accurate, that the ways in which we tabulate votes are accurate — that there is recourse to be able to determine what was or was not cast.”

It sounds like Bevin is suggesting votes for him could have been flipped to votes for Beshear by the computers inside of the state’s voting machines. It sounds like the speech of a sore loser, grasping at straws for some excuse to believe he really might have gotten more votes and he just got unlucky.

But here’s the thing: Bevin’s larger point is not actually wrong. It wasn’t the right time for Bevin to bring it up, but electronic-only voting is an actual problem that needs to be addressed across the country.

Voting machines are not nearly as impenetrable to hackers or immune from errors as we would like to think. Many machines can be hacked into in a matter of minutes without any technical knowledge, as long as you know the correct steps to take; and many other voting machines around the country are in need of software updates but haven’t been serviced in years.

The fact is, even if we had highly dependable, always-updated, hacker-proof voting machines, it still doesn’t make sense to vote electronically with zero paper trail of how votes were cast. We need — and we ought to demand — paper trails one way or another that can serve as a safety net to guarantee the legitimacy of every person’s vote.

Kentucky is one of the states where electronic-only voting is allowed; that should be a policy we move away from, not toward.

Individual voters need to be able to leave the voting booth knowing the votes they cast were counted correctly. And our democracy needs to able to say with confidence that hacking and software errors could never change the results of an election without being detected. Both goals can be achieved by requiring a paper trail that can corroborate or correct electronic vote totals.

To be clear, we don’t believe any of the problems we’re discussing occurred in Kentucky’s most recent election. There was never any evidence of problems with the vote totals, only random speculation by a governor who didn’t like the outcome.

But that doesn’t change the fact that our voting system could be improved. It could be made more secure and more trustworthy for future elections. On that point, Bevin is correct; it’s just his delivery that was off.