NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state government group is renewing its call for Tennessee to keep a paper trail of voters' ballots roughly 10 years after coming out with a similar recommendation that resulted in little change.
Just 14 of the state's 95 counties produce some sort of a paper record for independent recounts and audits, according to the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. The group first urged changes to the state's election system in 2007, when it found only two counties had such requirements.
All the other counties use direct recording electronic voting machines with touch screens that do not produce a paper record that can be recounted and audited independent of the voting machine's software.
"Although ensuring that elections are safe and secure is not a new challenge, as technology and election systems have evolved, so has the risk to security," the report reads. "The 2016 election cycle brought the potential vulnerabilities of electronic election infrastructure to the attention of national, state, and local officials, the media, and the general public."
Tennessee is one of 14 states with no statutory requirement of a paper record of all votes.
The report singled out a May 1 election incident where investigators found evidence of a "malicious intrusion" against the Knox County election commission's website from a computer in Ukraine during a concerted cyberattack.
An analysis of the so-called "denial of service" cyberattack found that computers from 65 countries accessed the websites in a three-hour period. The intention of the attack has still not been determined.
"The weakness in the system was repaired, but the lingering concern is that the website crash and delay in election results create the image that elections are being hacked and are not secure, potentially eroding people's confidence and trust in the election system and democratic process," the report noted.
The election security report was updated at the request of state Sen. Frank Niceley, a Republican from Strawberry Plains.
Niceley asked researchers to analyze the most cost-effective and efficient voter-verified paper audit trail for Tennessee counties and to identify opportunities to offset the cost of implementing those paper trail methods. However, the report did not come up with a clear answer due to the differences of needs between counties.
"We're still not sure if there are savings ... we don't yet have the data," said Jennifer Barrie, a research associate with the government group.
Barrie added that the state might save money by continuing to implement electronic voter registration. This option not only makes it easier for the public, but also improves the accuracy of voter rolls.
Niceley unsuccessfully introduced legislation earlier this year requiring each precinct using a direct recoding electronic voting machine to create a paper trail for future elections by 2020. A separate bill, submitted by Democrat Sen. Jeff Yarbro, also attempted to require some sort paper trail but that proposal likewise failed to gain traction.
"I think when a Harvard-educated liberal and a University of Tennessee conservative agree, people ought to pay attention," Niceley said in an interview on Monday.
Yarbro did not immediately return a request for comment.
"I don't know why anyone would be opposed to this," Niceley said. "To me, the only people who would be opposed to this are those looking to steal an election."
The report was recently made available and will be formally presented this week at the group's meeting on Wednesday.