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New Study: Voting Machines at Risk Ahead of 2016 Election

In 2016, 43 states will use voting machines that are at least 10 years old, perilously close to the end of their expected lifespan. Old equipment increases the risk of failures and crashes, which can lead to long lines and lost votes.

September 15, 2015

43 States Will Have Machines At Least 10 Years Old, Could Lead to Long Lines and Lost Votes

In 2016, 43 states will use electronic voting machines that are at least 10 years old, perilously close to the end of most systems’ expected lifespan, according to a new study released today from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

That includes significant percentages of machines in key swing states such as Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. Old voting equipment increases the risk of failures and crashes — which can lead to long lines and lost votes on Election Day — and problems only get worse the longer we wait.

After the Florida election meltdown in 2000, Congress appropriated $2 billion to move to electronic voting systems. But as the Center’s new study shows, this technology is rapidly aging out and needs to be replaced.

America’s Voting Machines at Risk compiles 10 months of independent research, including conversations with more than 100 election officials and specialists in all 50 states, detailing the extent of the problem. Again and again, experts spoke about the dire need to replace old machines — and local officials explained how they lacked sufficient funds to pay for them.

“No one expects a laptop to last for 10 years. How can we expect these machines, many of which were designed and engineered in the 1990s, to keep running without increased failures?” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Center’s Democracy Program, and co-author of the study. “Old equipment can have serious security flaws, and the longer we delay purchasing new machines, the higher the risk. To avoid a new technology crisis every decade, we must plan for and invest in voting technology for the 21st century.”

Other key findings:

  • For machines purchased since 2000, the expected lifespan for the core components of electronic voting machines is between 10 and 20 years, and for most systems it is closer to 10. In 2016, 43 states will use machines that are at least 10 years old — and machines in 14 states will be 15 or more years old. Nearly every state is using some machines that are no longer manufactured and many officials struggle to find replacement parts.
  • Jurisdictions in at least 31 states want to purchase new voting machines in the next five years, but officials from 22 of those states said they did not know where they would get the money to pay for them.
  • The cost of replacing aging equipment could easily exceed $1 billion nationwide.
  • Some states leave it to individual counties to buy machines — and there is compelling evidence that bigger, wealthier counties have purchased new machines, while poorer, rural counties are left with old equipment. In Virginia, for example, the median income of jurisdictions that purchased new machines was $69,800, compared to $50,100 for those without. This preliminary analysis came before one type of machine used in Virginia was decertified, which forced many counties, rich and poor, to get new equipment.
  • State innovations offer the possibility of better and less expensive voting machines. Many of these improvements are driven by election officials. In Los Angeles, California, for example, head of elections Dean Logan is designing his own flexible, touch-screen system to meet the unique needs of a county with approximately 5 million registered voters who speak 12 languages. Counties in Texas and Colorado are also implementing innovative systems.

“Technology has changed dramatically in the last decade,” added Voting Rights Researcher Christopher Famighetti, co-author of the report. “Several recent innovations show it’s possible to move toward more affordable and flexible voting machines. States must develop plans to deal with aging machines before 2016, and invest in the next generation of machines for future elections to come.”

Read America’s Voting Machines at Risk here.