Among the many contentious arguments of the 2016 presidential election was the question of the security of the vote itself. Accusations flew, with claims that the election would be rigged or hacked in some way. In part, those accusations were lent credence by the state of voting equipment in the United States. In many localities, equipment is approaching the end of its useful life; many states and counties last upgraded with the help of federal funding provided through the Help America Vote Act of 2002. “As the 2000 election demonstrated, and now again, elections in general and voting technology in particular is a highly under-resourced and underappreciated part of our democratic infrastructure,” says Professor Charles Stewart III of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab.
Despite the lack of federal funding, and regardless of largely unsubstantiated fears of voting irregularities, many election boards now find themselves busily bringing voting systems into the future with a combination of reliable, redundant equipment that leaves a paper trail, and transparent procedures that involve the public in the safeguarding of election outcomes.
One state that’s leading the way is Rhode Island. Ahead of the 2016 election cycle, officials there replaced voting machines statewide, purchasing 590 new scanner/tabulators. The state purchased 50 ballot-on-demand printers made by OKI Data Americas for each city or town hall, helping reduce the likelihood that officials run out of ballots. And during November’s general election, about 14 percent of polling places eschewed paper poll books by participating in a pilot that used iPad devices loaded with custom software and mounted on swivel stands, which helped streamline voter check-in.