How will voters cast ballots in the future? “That is the million-dollar question when I meet with other election officers and directors,” said Utah Elections Director Mark Thomas. In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), making available billions of dollars in funding for states to purchase electronic voting machines — then new and controversial technology aimed at eliminating a repeat of the hanging-chad debacle of the 2000 presidential election. “The manufacturer is no longer building them,” Thomas said of the 7,500 electronic machines the state purchased with its $28 million. “The parts will get scarce, and the technology will become obsolete. We’ll work through that as best and as long as we can, but at some point we’ll have to do something different.” That “something different” has yet to be clearly defined — but as current machines age out of use, counties and states will be on the hook to devise and fund their own changes. “Money is a big driver,” Thomas said. “We had HAVA money a decade ago, but that has since dried up. “We wish we had a crystal ball,” he added.
In Utah’s most populous county, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen expects its 3,100 electronic voting machines “to meet their demise over the next several years.”
“We’re hoping we can get another five years, at least through the presidential election of 2016,” Swensen said. “I don’t know beyond that.” After acquiring electronic voting machines in 2005, Salt Lake County had to build a high-security warehouse to store the equipment.
Swensen views today’s trends in voting technology as paper-based, with more and more jurisdictions moving toward vote-by-mail ballots that can be tallied by optical scanners. Salt Lake County currently has 10 such scanners, and in last year’s presidential election, 103,000 voters cast paper ballots. “It’s a very labor-intensive process to feed them through these scanners, so we’re hoping to get a couple of the high-speed readers to get us through the next few years,” Swensen said.