Last summer, with an important Illinois election season months away, Shelby County officials in central Illinois feared that their outdated voting equipment wouldn’t be approved for use by the State Board of Elections. Most of it dates to 2004, and it’s becoming harder to find replacement parts. Often, it’s difficult to read the machinery’s paper record, which is needed to verify votes. It passed inspection, but County Clerk Jessica Fox said the county, which is running a budget deficit, faces an upgrade of as much as $300,000. “Sooner or later we must have new equipment, regardless of the costs,” Fox said. Shelby County isn’t alone. Machine malfunction during the March 20 primary election was among the top reported issues to a hotline set up by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, a national nonpartisan voter-protection group.
“Many old voting machines across Illinois jurisdictions caused delays, which resulted in voters losing confidence in the system and some leaving the polls without voting,” said Ami Gandhi, director of Voting Rights and Civic Empowerment for the committee’s Chicago branch. She added that some polling places opened late, sometimes because of malfunctioning equipment.
Election and cybersecurity experts agree that replacing aging voting systems, which typically last about a decade, is critical to defending against cyberattacks and maintaining public trust.
Congress has approved $380 million to upgrade equipment nationwide as part of its effort to prevent a repeat of 2016, when the Department of Homeland Security determined that Russian hackers tried to breach election systems in 21 states.