Lori Edwards needs a new voting system for Polk County, Fla., where she is the supervisor of elections for 360,000 registered voters. She has just two problems: There is no money in the budget, and there is nothing she wants to buy. Edwards faces what a bipartisan federal commission has identified as an “impending crisis” in American elections. After a decade of use, a generation of electronic voting equipment is about to wear out and will cost tens of millions to replace. Though voters can pay for coffee with an iPhone, technology for casting their ballots is stuck in the pre-smartphone era — because of a breakdown in federal standard-setting. Polk County exemplifies the problem. The county’s 180 Accu-Vote optical scanner voting machines are 13 years old. Each weighs about as much as a microwave oven, Edwards says, and they occasionally get dropped. Sometimes, when poll workers are setting up for an election at 6 a.m., one of the machines won’t turn on — so Edwards has a backup machine for every 10 voting locations. She has been buying additional machines — used ones are $6,000 each — to have more backups available. Presidential candidates have yet to declare themselves for the 2016 election, but Edwards is already thinking about how to make sure Polk County’s balloting goes smoothly. “I worry about ’16. I worry about 2014. It’s something I’m kind of facing every day,” she says. “The equipment is going to start breaking down. I feel like I’m driving around in a 10-year-old Ford Taurus and it’s fine and it’s getting the job done, but one of these days it’s not going to wake up.”
The 2000 presidential election recount resulted in an outpouring of $3 billion in federal funds for states, counties and municipalities to buy new voting equipment, through the Help America Vote Act of 2002. A decade later, “machines that were purchased in 2003 are now starting to break down, and (election) jurisdictions are concerned that this will become more frequent,” says Nate Persily, research director for the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, created by President Obama after 10 million voters waited more than half an hour to vote in 2012.
The commission sounded the alarm partly because election officials may be reluctant to, Persily says. “People don’t want to broadcast there’s potentially an election debacle on the horizon, for the same reason that nobody who could potentially could get sued in an election wants to explain the danger coming. So they do what they can with what they have.”
Edwards says the problem isn’t something voters can do anything about. “If I thought people’s attention would help the problem, I might be making more of a stir down that avenue,” she says. “Just by instinct, election officials know it’s a big part of their job to maintain confidence.”
Full Article: Digital voting machines are aging out of use.