In just under a year, Americans will head to the polls to cast their ballots: Democrat or Republican? Carson or Clinton, perhaps Sanders or Trump? But even 12 months out, political and tech experts are starting to worry that current voting technology won’t be able to keep up with citizen demand. Worst case? A repeat of the 2000 election debacle in Florida, which is still under investigation today. Best case? The country gets on board with at least some electoral advancements to help safeguard the process. What options are available to current voters looking to cast their ballot in the upcoming election? USA.gov’s “Voting and Registering to Vote” page provides the basics: Citizens can turn up in person at their local polling station with applicable ID, or if they’re away from home, they may vote using a mail-in absentee ballot. Making the process more complicated is the fact that citizens must register to vote in federal elections at the state level, and all states have their own registration methods in place. For example, 23 states allow voters to register online, while others only accept a hard copy of the National Mail Voter Registration Form. But there’s a twist: Certain states like North Dakota and Wyoming, along with territories such as American Samoa, Guam and Puerto Rico, don’t accept the National Mail Voter Registration Form, meaning citizens must register in person at specific government offices.
Once voters are registered, the next step is actually casting their ballots. Online voting has been brought up time and time again over the last decade, always with negative results; citizens must vote by mail or in-person. As noted by Verified Voting, there are a number of methods still in use across the U.S. to tally in-person ballots. For example, hand-counted paper ballots remain a popular choice, and at least one state used punch cards in its last election. More common are optical scan paper ballot systems, which eliminate the need for counting by hand. There are also direct recording electronic (DRE) systems that use push buttons, touch screens or dials.
The problem? According to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice, even DRE systems are nearing the end of their life span. Many states are using machines that are no longer produced, making it difficult to find replacement parts, which is especially worrisome since some touch-screen machines are in such poor shape that voting selections aren’t registered or are tallied for the wrong candidate.
What’s more, some systems have been identified as potential cyberattack vectors: Cybercriminals could potentially use DRE wireless features to “record voting data or inject malicious data,” according to the report.