The D.C. Board of Elections says that the city’s voting machines are outdated and in need of replacement, an admission that comes only weeks before what could be a close mayoral election. In a report on the Apr. 1 primary published last week, the board said that a majority of the city’s touch-screen and optical scanner voting machines are outdated, exceeding the recommended 10 years of use. As such, they will be difficult to maintain for future elections. “The District of Columbia’s mechanical and digital voting and tabulation system… is in need of replacement,” says the report. “The BOE’s voting systems are over a decade old and are reaching the end of their operational life.” In the report, which was supposed to have been published in July but was delayed by three months, the board says that a large number of the city’s voting machines are refurbished units purchased “at a steep discount” in 2009. Given that they were in use before being purchased by D.C., the report says that the machines are older than what a federal election assistance commission recommends for use by local jurisdictions.
“[T]his equipment is ten (10) years old, was certified under standards that are twelve (12) years old, was not new when purchased, and was intended to be used by the BOE only for a short period,” says the report. “This same equipment, however, has been in BOE’s service well beyond the contemplated service period.”
The report says that machines were purchased at “one-third of the budgeted cost” and were only supposed to be used until 2010, but were kept in inventory and used for the elections that have happened since. For the Apr. 1 primary, all of the city’s 140 precincts received at least two touch-screen voting machines, while 17 precincts got three. Every precinct also got one optical scanner voting machine, which are used to read paper ballots.
The elections board came under intense scrutiny in the wake of the Apr. 1 primary, when technical issues now revealed to be server malfunctions caused vote tallies to be reported late or incorrectly. The problems occurred even though turnout was 27 percent, a historic low for local elections.