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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.