One of American elections’ biggest vulnerabilities can be found in one of the most obvious places: the voting machines themselves. The country’s voting infrastructure may not have been tampered with this time around, but experts say outdated systems and an overreliance on hackable electronics mean that if someone wanted to attack the next election, they might well get away with it. Even absent an interference attempt (or at least one that officials are aware of), the problems with voting machines during last week’s midterms were manifest and manifold. In Texas and several other states, technological flaws led to some votes reportedly getting flipped from one candidate to another. In North Carolina, some systems did not work because of the humidity. New York also experienced large-scale breakdowns.
Machines fail for the same reason they are susceptible to attack: They are aging, and fast. Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002 after confusion caused by paper ballots in the 2000 election, but the electronic systems that states adopted in their place were not built to last longer than 10 or 15 years. A Brennan Center for Justice survey this year found that 41 states are using systems that are at least a decade old, and officials in 33 states said they need to replace their systems by 2020, but many lack the funds to do so. Older machines are not only more likely to fail; they are also more likely to use obsolete software that makes it difficult to write security patches or replace hardware. Some election officials have had to resort to scouring eBay for spare parts.