Election Universe

US Voting Machines: An imminent crisis ahead?

US Voting Machines: An imminent crisis ahead?
September 29 2015, 19:54

According to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice (New York University School of Law), authored by Lawrence Norden and Christopher Famighetti, the United States’ election technology is facing a new challenge. Fifteen years after HAVA financed the acquisition of election technology “the majority of systems in use today are either perilously close to or past their expected life spans.”

The study states a majority of jurisdictions in 2016 will be using voting technology that is nearing the end of its projected life-cycle. Counties in forty-three states are using some machines that will be at least 10 years old in 2016; while there are machines that will be 15 or more years old in 14 states. The lifespan of voting technology is calculated using factors such as: the make of the machine, frequency of its use, how often parts are replaced, and the conditions under which the machine is stored and maintained. But in general, experts agree “the expected life span for the core components of electronic voting machines is between 10 and 20 years, and for most systems it is probably closer to 10 than 20.”

The Brennan Center interviewed more than 80 local election officials, and some 100 specialists, including voting machine vendors and independent technology experts across all 50 states. They determined the “voting equipment is old and past its usefulness,” as Tom Hicks, from the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), said.

Other findings are: a) the risk of failures and crashes increases with old machines, and this can lead to long lines and even lost votes, b) older machines can have serious security and reliability flaws as they cannot keep up with today’s innovations, and c) because this older technology does not reflect voters’ experience with technology in daily life, it can lead to an erosion of confidence in the system.

Another important problem election commissions need to address is funding. The study revealed that election officials wanting to buy new machines do not have sufficient resources. “Election jurisdictions in at least 31 states want to purchase new voting machines in the next five years. Officials from 22 of these states said they did not know where they would get the money to pay for them.” The Brennan Center estimates replacing voting machines, it could cost over $1 billion.

Fortunately, the report also presents guidelines on how to create opportunities out of this looming crisis. From a policy-making perspective, the study notes the EAC has approved new voting system certification guidelines, a new program manual for certification and testing, and has established a new web-based clearinghouse of sample Request for Proposals for voting equipment. It also recommends the  organization should play a critical role in supporting state and local election agencies and update the Federal Guidelines for Voting Machines to make it more flexible.

In general, the study’s recommendations go from precautionary steps for jurisdictions that cannot purchase new machines to clarifying how critical long-term plans and sources of funding strategies are for a better voting infrastructure in the US.

Image1 by Wokandapix via Pixabay