For all the talk about weaknesses in the electoral systems–about voter fraud or hacking or machine failure, or all of the above–experience with these types of claims or concerns suggests that, as matters of general public debate, they will soon fade. The rhetoric may linger, but little of use, such as practical reforms, is likely to follow. This does not have to be the way the story ends. Six years ago, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration suggested at least two potentially helpful measures, one very concrete and urgent, and the other pressing but more politically complicated and so harder to execute. These reforms won’t satisfy everyone: they offer only so much to those with the darkest suspicions. But they would make a major difference in preventing a calamitous breakdown in the voting process and an even greater collapse of public confidence.
First, the Commission emerged from its study of various administrative problems to sound an alarm about the state of election equipment and voting technology. It elected to use the words “impending crisis”: It did so in the knowledge that election administrators across the country would not accuse it of exaggerating. What was leading inexorably toward crisis was:
The widespread wearing out of voting machines purchased a decade ago, the lack of any voting machines on the market that meet the current needs of election administrators, a standard-setting process that is broken down, and a certification process for new machines that is costly and time-consuming.
Jurisdictions looking to address the problem did not then, and most do not now, have enough money to do it, or to do it promptly.
The Commission also recommended that post-election audits of voting equipment should be conducted after each election “as part of a comprehensive audit program,” with full disclosure about machine performance in a common data format. The Commission specifically endorsed both risk-limiting audits, intended to validate the election outcome with a sample of votes cast, and performance audits to address the question of whether the voting technology performed as required.