Forty-three states will use outdated electronic voting machines when people head to the polls in 2016, potentially leaving the door open to various problems including the possibility of crashes and lost votes, according to a new study.
The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan public policy and law institute, spent 10 months putting together independent research on electronic voting machines around the country and conducted interviews with over 100 election officials and specialists in all 50 states.
According to the group, core components in voting machines that were purchased since 2000 have an expected lifespan between 10 to 20 years, with most systems having an expiration date closer to the 10-year-mark.
The center discovered that 43 states have voting machines that are at least 10 years old putting them "perilously close" to most of the systems’ expected lifespan. This includes a significant percentage of machines in key swing states such as Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. The study also found that 14 states have machines that are at least 15 years old.
"No one expects a laptop to last for 10 years. How can we expect these machines, many of which were designed and engineered in the 1990s, to keep running without increased failures?" said Lawrence Norden, co-author of the study. "Old equipment can have serious security flaws, and the longer we delay purchasing new machines, the higher the risk. To avoid a new technology crisis every decade, we must plan for and invest in voting technology for the 21st century."
Officials told the center that voting machines which are nearing their expiration have a much higher likelihood to lead to major problems such as ﬂipped votes, screen freezes, shut downs, long lines, lost votes, and incorrect tallies.
Another significant problem, the group found, is that nearly every state uses some machines that are no longer being manufactured, making it difficult for election officials to find replacement parts if needed.
Concerns over aging voting machines have been raised numerous times in recent years.
The Presidential Committee on Election Administration issued a warning in January of last year about machines across the country, saying an "impending crisis" could happen in the near future stemming from the "widespread wearing out of voting machines purchased a decade ago." Correcting the problem would be difficult, the committee noted, because most jurisdictions around the country do not have the money to purchase new equipment.
Replacing aging equipment with newer models could carry costs that exceed $1 billion nationwide, the center estimates within the report.
"Technology has changed dramatically in the last decade," said Christopher Famighetti, co-author of the report. "Several recent innovations show it’s possible to move toward more affordable and flexible voting machines. States must develop plans to deal with aging machines before 2016, and invest in the next generation of machines for future elections to come."