Failed voting machines, frustrated voters and lost votes: these have been a constant in news reports following every recent major election cycle. That should not be surprising. The voting systems1 used in the United States today are complicated machines; each runs on tens of thousands of lines of software code. As with automobiles and airplanes, automatic garage door openers and lawnmowers, occasional malfunctions are inevitable – even after rigorous product testing.
When it comes to system failures, however, voting machines are different from automobiles and airplanes, and other products, in at least one important respect: for the vast majority of voting systems in use today, (1) manufacturers are not required to report malfunctions to any government agency, and (2) there is no agency that either investigates such alleged failures or alerts election officials and the general public to possible problems (let alone requires voting system manufacturers to fix such problems).
As this report demonstrates, the consequence of this lack of oversight is predictable. Voting systems fail in a particular county in one election, and then again later, under similar circumstances, but in a different locale. These repeated failures disenfranchise voters and damage public confidence in the electoral system.