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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.