The presidential campaign is now upon us, and with it comes a nearly endless line of candidates and a wave of money that will crash over our democracy like we’ve never before experienced. You will read the now-routine media story of “how much the election costs” and stagger at the hugeness of the numbers. In 2012, presidential and congressional campaigns combined to spend more than $7 billion. The midterms of 2014 posted $3.7 billion all on their own.Yet, it would be wrong to assume these numbers represent the true cost of elections — these sensational numbers are the totals spent to get candidates into office. County, town and state governments pay for running an election, and it’s done on a shoestring budget. Campaigns spend countless time and energy focused on persuading exactly the right number of voters necessary to win. In contrast, election administrators across the country, strive to make our elections work better. They hope to build civic participation year-over-year and to increase voter access while making the process more user-friendly. Election administrators are the stewards of our democracy, and yet their budgets are often an afterthought.
The consequences of under-funding elections are real and could arrive as soon as next November. A remake of the 2000 Presidential Election “hanging chad” debacle is growing more likely every year, only this time, updated for the digital age. According to the Brennan Center, a majority of the electronic voting machines purchased since 2000 are already “perilously close” to or exceeding their expected lifespan. This should come as no surprise; how many Americans are still able to use laptops purchased 15 years ago?
A new wave of investment in our elections infrastructure would do more than avert a crisis. It could also save money, modernize voting for the way we live and reignite a civic awakening. Weaving technology into the civic core of our nation’s elections is a commitment to every voter — regardless of political affiliation.