State NAACP President T. Anthony Spearman of Greensboro may have put it best:

“Why would you use a $3,500 machine to mark a paper ballot when you have a PEN that does the job better?

“It’s like buying a chainsaw to cut an apple pie ... it doesn’t work as well as a knife, and it’s a complete waste of money.”

Spearman was referring to the State Board of Elections’ misguided decision to allow voting machines that use bar code ballots in next year’s elections. By a 3-2 vote, the board decided to permit N.C. counties to buy voting equipment that digitizes votes into bar code data, which is then tallied by counting machines. The machines may be technologically sound, but they lack the clear paper record that an increasing number of North Carolina citizens feel is necessary to be certain that their votes are accurately counted.

We hope every single N.C. county election board will have the foresight the state election board lacks and give those machines a hard pass.

State election board member Ken Raymond of Forsyth County says objections to bar code ballots are “inconsistent at best” because people routinely accept the technology when it comes to grocery purchases.

But an accurate vote tally is much more consequential than 10 cents off a pound of apples.

“We have heard voters don’t like this. Voters do not trust this, and that’s their judgment to make,” said board member Stella Anderson, who voted against the bar code data. “Bar codes are not human-readable. The whole purpose of a paper ballot is to be able to recount or audit the voter’s votes in a way independent of any possibly hacked or buggy computers.”

She’s right, and for a number of reasons. Russian meddling in the 2016 extended further than Facebook ads and fake news stories. A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released in July revealed that Moscow tried to hack election voting systems in all 50 states. Its efforts continue to this day and will through 2020.

On top of that, we have our own problems when it comes to voter confidence, including gerrymandered districts, voter suppression, ballot tampering and claims of voter fraud. Many voters in the state are now on edge, wondering if they’ll be able to trust 2020 election results. Pair that with a sharply divided electorate, and whatever the outcome of the 2020 elections, someone’s going to claim that some election was rigged. Others will believe the claims — especially if they dislike an election outcome.

The State Board of Elections has an obligation to the public to foresee and counter this perception. A paper record, transparent and easily audited, is essential to make sure that our elections are secure and free from manipulation and corruption — so says common sense.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine says so, too. In a study released last year, the organization, which serves as the nation’s collective science academy, that urged that elections use human-readable paper ballots that people can inspect and recount.

Our state legislature also has a role to play in defending fair elections. Its members should consider the current lack of confidence an urgent situation that requires an immediate solution. They should sit with Gov. Roy Cooper and good-government advocates, put aside all partisanship and do whatever it takes to ensure the public confidence in elections.

This is a disaster we can see coming from a year away. Steps to prevent it need to begin now.

Our elections must rise above partisan influence and any appearance of corruption.

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