The Antiquation of American Voting Machines

Posted by Molly Rockett on September 23, 2015
In discussions of voting rights, conversation often revolves around the tension between voter access and electoral integrity, yet attention is rarely paid to the technology that governs both of these values. Recently, the Brennan Center of Justice released a comprehensive report on the (alarming) state of American voting technology. Their key takeaway? Our voting machines desperately need to be upgraded.

From NPR: "A voter fills out her ballot in Las Vegas in 2004.
A new report finds several states, including Nevada, have voting
machines more than 10 years old, which are more likely to fail."
David McNew/Getty Images
In the upcoming 2016 election, 43 states will use voting machines that are at least ten years old, many of which are susceptible to security and reliability flaws. Even worse, most of the technology used in these machines was engineered in the 1990s. And even when elected officials want to update their machines, most cannot obtain the money to pay for them. As NPR noted, “everything's coming to a head at once because almost every state bought new computerized voting equipment right after the disputed 2000 election, using $2 billion in federal aid.” If this problem is not addressed soon, the chaos from the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election might repeat itself as voting machines continue to fail and electoral integrity is lost.

Electoral reform might not be as sexy as other issues, but it is foundational to public confidence in our political system. Moreover, as this discussion enters the public domain (major outlets including NPR, CNN, and Politico among others all noted this report), future electoral reforms will depend on the adaptability and versatility of voting equipment. Currently, our first-past-the-post voting system contributes to a range of problems affecting our democracy, from unrepresentative governments to unaccountable elected officials. If truly meaningful progress is to be made in balancing access and integrity, we need to consider different ways of voting like ranked choice voting, and ensure our voting equipment is equipped to handle a range of voting systems.
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