Tennessee: 28 of 95 counties now have paper trail for voting

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FILE – In this June 7, 2019, file photo, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, left, a Nashville Democrat, checks out Davidson County’s new voting equipment at the Green Hills Branch of the Nashville Public Library on, in Nashville, Tenn. Tennessee officials say 28 of 95 counties now have voting machines that leave a paper trail, and more are planning to buy them. (AP Photo/Jonathan Mattise)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee officials say 28 of 95 counties now have voting machines that leave a paper trail, and more are planning to buy them.

Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins told a state Senate panel Tuesday the number is up from just three counties in 2010.

Goins says 45% of the votes cast last year had a paper trail.

“Certainly, the marketplace seems to be driving that direction,” Goins said.

Most election security experts consider a paper record as crucial to ensuring accurate vote tallies. Some are pushing for officials to ditch electronic vote-casting altogether in favor of paper ballots filled out by hand and machine-scanned.

In the 2016 presidential election, 14 states used paperless voting machines as the primary polling place equipment in at least some counties and towns. That number dropped further in 2020, with states including Pennsylvania and Georgia moving away from paperless systems. It’s down to about a half-dozen states that have at least some counties using equipment that doesn’t produce a paper trail, according to a map by Verified Voting, which focuses on technology in election administration.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett says he’s encouraging Tennessee counties to buy paper-trail equipment, but can’t require it under current state law.

The Republican said some counties still bought new electronic-only machines in the last few years.

Machines bought with the newest round of federal voting money must have a paper audit trail, though there is still some federal money remaining for Tennessee that doesn’t require it, Hargett said.

In 2018, 14 counties — representing only 556,400 of the state’s 4 million-plus registered voters at the time — used voting equipment with some sort of paper trail.

Among Tennessee’s largest counties, Nashville’s city-county government moved to an electronic paper-producing hybrid machine in 2019; Knox County, which includes Knoxville, changed to paper ballots last year; and Hamilton County, which includes Chattanooga, has had paper ballots for years.

Shelby County, which is anchored by Memphis, is ensnared in a fight over what equipment to buy to replace its electronic-only machines. The local election board, which wants hybrid machines, plans a lawsuit over funding against the county commission, which wants paper ballots.

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