Thou shall not be like Florida in 2000. To keep that commandment, state lawmakers want localities to purchase voting machines that leave a paper trail. However without state funds to back up the directive, local registrars must figure out how long they can chance using the old touch-screen machines while they find money to afford new ones. Botetourt County Registrar Phyllis Booze worries touch-screen voting equipment purchased following the Bush v. Gore debacle might not hold up to the demand of heavy voter turnout expected for the 2016 presidential contest. Under state law, she can’t buy replacements for broken or worn machines and she needs hundreds of thousands of local dollars to switch to paper-based optical scanners.
A conversion is underway in Montgomery County, but other local registrars are trying to figure out how much it will cost. “I’m a huge fan of touch screens, but if a machine fails, you can’t get another,” Booze said. “The biggest question for all of us is the cost of democracy. Do we want to take a chance? Basically those [touch-screen] vendors were legislated out of business. There are no software updates. We’re just sitting and waiting. What might happen and what kind of risk do we want to take?”
Booze would prefer a new paper-based system to be in place by November 2015. “If we use a [touch screen] and it crashes and every single vote is lost, you can’t fix it. You don’t have any idea who voted on which one of those machines,” Booze said. “Even if you did, Virginia code says once you vote, you cannot vote again.”