As jurisdictions across the country are preparing for 2016’s big election, many are already thinking of the next presidential election—2020 and beyond. This is especially true when it comes to the equipment used for casting and tabulating votes. Voting machines are aging. A September report by the Brennan Center found that 43 states are using some voting machines that will be at least 10 years old in 2016. Fourteen states are using equipment that is more than 15 years old. The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration dubbed this an “impending crisis.” To purchase new equipment, jurisdictions require at least two years lead time before a big election. They need enough time to purchase a system, test new equipment and try it out first in a smaller election. No one wants to change equipment (or procedures) in a big presidential election, if they can help it. Even in so-called off-years, though, it’s tough to find time between elections to adequately prepare for a new voting system. As Merle King, executive director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University, puts it, “Changing a voting system is like changing tires on a bus… without stopping.” So if election officials need new equipment by 2020, which is true in the majority of jurisdictions in the country, they must start planning now.
Here’s the catch: nationwide, officials report that they’re not quite sure where the money for new machines will come from. The machines that they’re replacing were mostly paid for in the mid-2000s by federal funds through the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA)—but there’s little hope of federal funding this time around.
HAVA drastically changed the landscape of voting technology. Not only did it shift the country away from lever and punch card voting machines by paying for replacement equipment, it also altered the elections equipment market. For one thing, because so much of the nation’s equipment was bought at the same time, a majority of the country’s machines will need replacement around the same time as well. HAVA also made local jurisdictions more dependent on funds coming from the feds rather than on their county coffers. A whole generation of county commissioners has come of age in an era when they haven’t had to budget for voting equipment, as was the norm in the pre-2000 era.
Full Article: The Canvass | November-December 2015.