Voting machine manufacturers pushed to provide ways to sanitize products

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The top U.S. voting machine manufacturers are being pushed to produce videos and information on how their products can be sanitized to enable Americans to safely vote in-person during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Six leading voting equipment manufacturers were sent a letter Thursday by nonprofit group Free Speech for People, which raised concerns that voting machines could become a “major disease vector” for spreading the coronavirus during upcoming primaries and the general election.

As a result, the group asked the manufacturers to produce videos detailing how to properly clean voting equipment and post them online, along with allowing third-party groups to examine whether the steps to clean the equipment were effective and safe. 

“We make these requests because we are deeply concerned about the health risk that electronic voting machines pose to voters,” Free Speech for People wrote. 

All six of the voting machine equipment vendors — including the three largest, Election Systems and Software, Hart InterCivic, and Dominion Voting Systems — have produced written guidelines around how to sanitize their products due to the outbreak of COVID-19. 

But the nonprofit argued that these written steps are not enough, particularly in light of findings that the virus can survive on certain surfaces for days. 

“We are concerned that effective sanitization of each voting machine may create delays, resulting in voters being forced to wait in line to vote, increasing the possibility of person-to-person transmission of the virus,” the group wrote. 

Free Speech for People warned that “lines—and health risks—will worsen if the cleaning process causes a machine to malfunction, even temporarily. Finally, if a poll worker does not adequately disinfect a machine, it could result in live virus transmission to the next voter.” 

The Hill reached out to all six companies — which also included Clear Ballot, MicroVote, and Unisyn — for comment on the letter. 

Clear Ballot CEO Bob Hoyt told The Hill in a statement that “the sanitization of voting machines is absolutely critical,” and pushed for an expansion of mail-in voting. 

“We are encouraging every jurisdiction to take immediate steps to expand opportunities to vote by mail rather than in person,” Hoyt said. “Voting by mail is the clear solution because it is both practical and safe, and Clear Ballot is ready to help any jurisdiction implement new processes or expand current options for voting by mail.”

The letter from the group was prepared by lawyers who recently filed a lawsuit in North Carolina alleging that certain machines produced by Election Systems and Software and used in several counties were not secure. 

Courtney Hostetler, counsel at Free Speech for People and one of the lawyers involved in filing the lawsuit, told The Hill on Thursday that it was critical that election officials and legislators “make changes to our traditional voting process” in order to keep voters safe. 

“Manufacturers of voting machines must demonstrate and provide clear guidance on the time, cost, and processes that are required to effectively sanitize their machines so that election officials can make informed decisions about how best to protect voters on Election Day,” Hostetler said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also ramped up concerns around voting in-person generally, particularly following reports that more than a dozen people in Wisconsin caught the virus when they were forced to vote in-person during the state’s primary election earlier this month. 

Voting rights advocates and Democrats on Capitol Hill have pushed hard in recent weeks for funding to be sent to states to help them move towards mail-in voting, along with expanding early voting at in-person polling locations in order to cut down on the amount of individuals in the building at the same time.

-Updated at 1:10 p.m. to include a comment from Clear Ballot. 

Tags Coronavirus Elections Electronic voting Voting

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