Vote flipping. The stories and conspiracy theories have begun. In every recent election, there have been reports of voters pressing one candidate’s name on a touch-screen machine, only to have the opponent’s name light up instead. It can be unnerving for voters and often leads to allegations that the machines have been “rigged” to favor one candidate over another. Enter election 2016, when the word “rigged” is more politically charged than ever. In the first few days of early voting, there are already scattered reports of vote-flipping machines in North Carolina, Texas and Nevada. … So what’s going on? Are the machines rigged? No, says just about every voting technology expert. “If you were actually trying to rig an election, it would be a very stupid thing to do, to let the voter know that you were doing it,” says Larry Norden, with the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.
He notes that one reason voters are so concerned about vote flipping is that they see it happen right in front of them on the voting machine screen. They press A and B lights up. “I do think if somebody was hacking into a machine they wouldn’t do this, to kind of notify the voter that the machine wasn’t working,” he says.
Norden thinks the real problem is that voting machines used in much of the country are old, more than 10 years in most places. The machines rely on outdated technology — some of it is from the 1990s — to calibrate the touch screens. And the hardware is starting to wear out.
“Over time, as people vote, that calibration becomes less and less accurate,” says Norden. So by the end of a long day of voting, the machines aren’t as accurate as they were in the morning. Also, the sealant that attaches the screen to the machine can deteriorate over time, which causes the screen to be misaligned.