Six states received the lowest grades for their abilities to accurately count election results based on their lack of access to paper ballots, according to a report released Wednesday by Common Cause, Rutgers Law School and the Verified Voting Foundation.
The report -- which studied election technology and administration in the 50 states and the District of Columbia -- calls primarily for states to implement paper ballots in all counties in order to guard against system failures and other issues. The grading centered primarily on whether the state had paper trails in place.
"The biggest problem is if those machines malfunction, there is no way to independently check," Susannah Goodman, director of the voting integrity project at Common Cause said in a conference call with reporters. "What was the voters' intent? You can't do an audit."
The report showed that Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin were best when it came to catching voting problems, while Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina ranked at the bottom of the list. States were graded on whether their machines leave a paper trail, whether an audit is done of ballots, whether election officials check the vote count against the amount of voters who come to the polls, whether there are contingency plans in place in case of machine failure, and whether voting-by-mail is encouraged over online voting for military and overseas voters. Failure in the paper ballot category led to failure for states in the audit category, given the need for paper ballots to conduct the audit.
"For states that don't have paper ballots or records, it knocks them down," Goodman said.
Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have paper trail machines in place statewide. Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia were cited as not having paper trail machines in place statewide. Some of the states, however, include counties that use paper machines.
States that have hybrid systems in place -- with some counties having paper trail machines while others rely on paperless machines -- receive lower grades.
In terms of the military and overseas voters, Goodman and Pamela Smith, the president of the Verified Voting Foundation, said there are concerns about some states allowing those overseas to return their votes online rather than by mail. Privacy, including worries that ballots were returned to the elections office without tampering, were potential problems.
"People see this not as a voting method but as a sending method," Smith said. "The problem is you are voting over electronic lines."
At the bottom of the list, the use of paperless voting systems in South Carolina, Delaware, two counties in Colorado, Louisiana and parts of Mississippi and Kansas, including the lack of audits in most of these states were cited in the report. The necessity of audits were stressed by Goodman and Smith, who said they allow election officials to see whether a software glitch was miscounting votes.
Delaware and Mississippi were cited by the report authors for tough contingency plans for election officials to work with, while Kansas election officials were said to have a good contingency plan but no statewide audits in place, even though some of the machines have paper trails.
Goodman and Smith said that not all states will be able to have the material in place for the November election, citing cost constraints of obtaining new machines. They did indicate that some of the categories, including contingency planning can be adopted by regulation and cost little -- primarily printing emergency paper ballots. They said New Jersey and Virginia are likely to have paper machines in place soon.
The paper trail issue concerns election administrators nationally. Union County, N.J., Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, the president of the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers, told HuffPost this week that her organization is promoting its importance. Rajoppi said that election officials are exploring new technology and used a recent convention in New Mexico to explore new machines.