The United States is heading for another catastrophe in its voting system equivalent to the notorious “hanging chad” affair that shook the country in 2000 and propelled George W Bush into the White House, experts on electoral procedures are warning. The voting technology deployed by most states around the country is now so antiquated and unreliable that it is in danger of breaking down at any time, the experts say. Some states are having to go on eBay to buy spare parts for machines that are no longer manufactured. The extent of decay in America’s electoral infrastructure is laid bare in a new report from the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan institute at the New York University School of Law specializing in democracy and justice. Having consulted more than 100 voting specialists in all 50 states, the center concludes that the country is facing an impending crisis in the way it conducts elections. As Louisiana’s secretary of state Tom Schedler put it to an official hearing recently: “It’s getting a little scary out there.”
With the presidential election of November 2016 fast approaching, it is already very late in the cycle for states to be able to update their technology in time. Yet most states are operating voting machines that are perilously close to exceeding their sell-by-date, Brennan has found. The center discovered that at least 31 states have recognized they need to buy new voting machines within the next five years, yet, of those, 22 said they had no idea how they were going to pay for them. The jurisdictions with equipment reaching the end of its natural lifespan cover about 40 million registered voters, and account for 387 of the 538 electoral college votes that decide the presidency.
In a further stark finding, Brennan found that 43 states are using machines that by election day next year will be at least 10 years old, while 14 states will have machines at least 15 years old. Bearing in mind that today’s iteration of voting equipment is computer-driven, the technology is ageing fast. Lawrence Norden, co-author of the Brennan report, said that voting machines were no different from laptops in the sense that they rarely survived for 15 years. “That’s what we are seeing today with voting machines – we are reaching the end of their lifetime.”
Norden said that despite the nationwide scope of the problem, little was being invested in finding a solution. “No one is expressing any interest in paying for new machines. Congress has shown absolutely no interest in doing so.” He went on: “We wouldn’t do this with anything else – you wouldn’t wait for your fire truck to breakdown before replacing it.”