Remember the phrase “hanging chads” and all the trouble with recounts in Florida during the 2000 presidential election? The end result was an intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court before George W. Bush was declared the winner over Al Gore more than a month after the election.
Congress also intervened, although not until 2002 when it passed the Help America Vote Act. Determined to rid the country of out-of-date and malfunctioning voting machines, more than $2 billion was authorized to help states and counties upgrade their equipment. Those upgrades, which led to touch screens and direct-recording electronic machines, were state of the art with their zip disks, memory cards, dot matrix printer ribbons and software.
Sounds ancient already, doesn’t it? It is. Systems are failing throughout the country, parts are almost impossible to find, irregularities are popping up such as “flipped votes, tally errors and sudden shutdowns” — and now election officials are being reminded those systems only had projected lifespans of no more than 10 to 15 years.
As the Congressional Quarterly Roll Call reported this week, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University said more than half of all U.S. jurisdictions could be using obsolete equipment in next year’s elections. The center’s report stated that includes key swing states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“Our findings might alarm a lot of people, and that might not be a bad thing,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and a co-author of the study.
The Brennan Center estimates it would cost at least $1 billion to upgrade systems throughout the nation, and Congress likely won’t come through this time despite the severity of the problem. A Tribune News Service story said: “43 states are using some machines that will be at least 10 years old in 2016. In 14 states, machines will be 15 or more years old.”
Rather than rely on already suspect systems most counties won’t be updating before next year’s elections, officials need to reconsider going back in time. Not to pull-levers and punched chads, but something more basic: Paper.
We join the chorus of Americans who distrust a digital system that has no tangible backup to prove voter intent. We believe wholeheartedly that any computer program is vulnerable to hacks, attacks and other sorts of manipulation. And we believe it a complete waste of money to invest in technologies that don’t last a generation now, and that longevity trend line is headed downward fast.
Some technology just isn’t worth the investment when adding up all the costs. As the downsides to paperless voting include an erosion of voter confidence and decreased participation in the process, it is time to end this dangerous experiment.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry