Midterm voting exposes growing problem of nation’s aging machines
ATLANTA >> Election experts have long warned about the nation’s aging fleet of voting equipment. This week’s elections underscored just how badly upgrades are needed.
Across the country, reports poured in Tuesday amid heavy voter turnout of equipment failing or malfunctioning, triggering frustration among voters and long lines at polling places.
Scanners used to record ballots broke down in New York City. Voting machines stalled or stopped working in Detroit. Electronic poll books used to check in voters failed in Georgia. Machines failed to read ballots in Wake County, North Carolina, as officials blamed humidity and lengthy ballots.
Those problems followed a busy early voting period that revealed other concerns, including machines that altered voters’ choices in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.
Voting experts had hoped the threat of foreign governments meddling in U.S. elections, raised in 2016 when Russia targeted state election systems, would prompt action to upgrade the machinery that underpins U.S. elections.
But two years before the
2020 presidential election, 41 states are still using machines that were manufactured more than a decade ago and a dozen states are using at least some electronic machines that produce no paper trail, which can be used to settle a disputed outcome. Just three states require the type of rigorous audit backed by cybersecurity experts.
Some of the voting machines in use Tuesday were built before Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, while other equipment has become so obsolete that election workers have been forced to search on eBay for replacement parts.
In some cases, local election offices have no technicians who are trained to repair
their machines when something goes wrong. Some even run on Windows operating systems that Microsoft no longer supports.
“You can’t run democracy on the cheap,” said Jenny Flanagan, vice president for state operations with Common Cause. “We have to invest in our democracy to make our elections work.”
Congress sent $380 million to states earlier this year, but that was nowhere near enough to pay for the bulk of the nation’s nearly 10,000 election jurisdictions to upgrade their equipment. Experts with the Brennan Center for Justice have estimated it would take $1 billion or more to make the necessary upgrades.
Sebastian Snelling, left, is given instructions on using a paper ballot as the precinct switched over from electronic voting machines after a judge ordered the location to remain open until 10 p.m. in Atlanta on Tuesday.