What makes you lose sleep?” That’s what NCSL staff asked members of the National Association of State Election Directors back in September 2012. The answer wasn’t voter ID, or early voting, or turnout, as we expected. Instead, it was this: “Our equipment is aging, and we aren’t sure we’ll have workable equipment for our citizens to vote on beyond 2016.”That was NCSL’s wake-up call to get busy and learn how elections and technology work together. We’ve spent much of the last two years focusing on that through the Elections Technology Project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. One thing we learned is that virtually all election policy choices have a technology component. Just two examples: vote centers and all-mail elections. While both can be debated based on such values as their effect on voters, election officials and budgets, neither can be decided without considering technology. Vote centers rely on e-poll books, and all-mail elections depend on optical scan equipment to handle volumes of paper ballots.Below are nine more takeaways we’ve learned recently and that legislators might like to know too. Most of the equipment in use around the nation was bought with federal money made available through the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). That was before smartphones were invented, and even iPods were new technology. And a significant portion of the country uses equipment that was bought well before that.
With aging equipment, jurisdictions are spending more money on maintenance. Cannibalizing some machines to keep others going is commonplace. At some point, equipment will need to be replaced. HAVA funds are mostly gone now, and there is no sign of additional federal money as far as the eye can see.
Who will pay for new equipment, since the feds will not? The choices are few: local jurisdictions, the state, or a combination. In most states, the costs are borne by counties, and in a few, such as Georgia, the state takes the lead. In others, a variety of state-level funding mechanisms exist to ease the burden on local jurisdictions.
Each state, and sometimes each jurisdiction, makes its own decision on what election equipment to use. While a few small jurisdictions count all ballots by hand, in general the options for new equipment continue to be variations on either “paper or electronic.” In other words, paper ballots that are counted through optical scan equipment or direct-recording electronic equipment (DREs) that may look a bit like an ATM. While those who use DREs love them, most recent equipment choices have tended toward the paper and optical scan side.
Full Article: States and Election Reform | The Canvass: May 2015.