Alabama’s special election for Jeff Sessions’ vacated Senate seat is underway today, but state courts are still battling over whether or not digital records from the vote should be preserved in case of a recount or a hack.
On Monday, a judge ordered local election officials to save digital images of ballots, AL.com reports. However, his decision was quickly reversed by the Alabama Supreme Court, which stayed his order Monday evening.
Alabama uses paper ballots in its elections, which is considered more secure than many digital voting machines. Once voters mark their choices on paper, the ballots are scanned by computers to tally the votes. This system isn’t set up properly for audits, according to Verified Voting, an election integrity organization.
“If the race goes to a recount following the election, Alabama’s recount laws won’t do enough to protect voters’ votes because it has no audit structure in place and relies on re-tabulation—where ballots that were tabulated by optical scanners are now re-tabulated by machine,” Verified Voting president Marian Schneider said in a statement. “If a recount occurs, it cannot be relied on to detect and correct a potential error in the computerized count unless it is done manually.”
Four Alabama voters sued in an effort to get ballot images preserved, according to AL.com, arguing that state and federal law requires election officials to preserve the digital ballot images for six months. In Alabama, the digital images are typically destroyed after an election.
“After hearing arguments and reviewing the filings, it appears that Plaintiffs and similarly situated voters would suffer irreparable and immediate harm if digital ballot images are not preserved,” Montgomery County Circuit Judge Roman Ashley Shaul wrote in his order requiring ballot images to be preserved.
However, the state Supreme Court overruled his decision, which Verified Voting says will limit the state’s ability to do election audits or catch hacking attempts.
“If every state’s election systems provided voter-verified paper ballots and post-election audits, we would be able to detect and correct errors or election tampering. But without the proper procedures in place, Alabama will be unable to do this,” Schneider said.