“Today’s voting systems are not going to last 70 years, they’re going to last 10,” says U.S. Elections Assistance Commission Commissioner Matt Masterson. While previous generations of voting equipment, lever machines and punch cards, had hardware that could be relied on for decades, today’s technology becomes outdated a lot faster. While election equipment needs to be replaced more often, election administration remains a low funding priority, a ProPublica review of state and local budgets nationwide found. In 2017, Utah appropriated $275,000 to aid counties in purchasing new voting equipment, but $500,000 to help sponsor the Sundance Film Festival. A few years earlier, Missouri allocated $2 million in grants to localities to replace voting equipment the state, while increasing the Division of Tourism budget by $10 million to $24 million.
In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, home to Pittsburgh, this year’s Division of Elections budget is $6.1 million. The budget of the county’s Parks Department is nearly three times as big. Across the state in Luzerne County, the Bureau of Elections budget is just under $900,000, while the Buildings and Grounds Department has a budget of $1.4 million.
“Election officials are low on the totem pole, budget-wise,” says Masterson. “A lot of times it’s you or a new gazebo or improvements to the local golf course.”
The cost of new voting equipment is typically many times larger than election administrators’ annual budgets. In both Allegheny and Luzerne counties, local officials estimate new equipment would be roughly four times the cost of their annual elections budget. Neither county has ticketed funds to make such large capital purchases.