November Election Will Strain Aging Voting Technology

Unless you have been living in a bunker these past few months, you probably know that we have a presidential election coming up between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. Both candidates are rather polarizing people, making interest in the election extremely high. In fact, most states have seen voter registration increase across the board. It seems like very few people want to sit this one out. While that is good news for democracy, it might be bad for states that have not upgraded their voting technology.

Voting technology is one of those things that is put into the spotlight, sometimes very brightly when it comes to a presidential election, but then quickly fades from memory. Even in states where voters experience hours of waiting in long lines to cast their ballot, or states where there is a technology failure or glitch reported, the outrage tends to die quickly afterward. There are just too many other things to spend money on over technology that only gets used every few years.

Because of that, a majority of voters are likely going to have to deal with very old technology for this election. In fact, a recent study showed that up to 43 states are planning to use voting machines that are at least 10 years old, with some moving forward with 20- or 30-year-old systems. Do you really want to cast your vote on a machine that could have been around while people were playing Donkey Kong?

Not every state is going to be depending on ancient technology. A few have decided to upgrade, in whole or in part, to help reduce the potential load on the system and to ensure better reliability. Virginia spent $28 million in 2014 to upgrade all of their machines across the entire state. During the previous presidential election, troubles with the touchscreen controls of their aging systems was widely reported, stubbornly refusing to accept votes for certain candidates in some cases.

Given the traditional battleground nature of Virginia in presidential elections, some post-election controversy would not be good for anyone, and Virginia is taking no chances. Not only did the voting machines get upgraded, a better network backbone was put in place for use by the Virginia Department of Elections. The state is expected to be able to tally its results quickly and accurately this time around. If there is some sort of Bush and Gore fight over Electoral College numbers after this election, it’s a pretty safe bet that it won’t be centered in Virginia.

Other states like Michigan, which experienced some problems last time, notably very long lines and disenfranchised voters in some areas, are also upgrading, but none seem to be as speedy as Virginia. Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson recently got approval for blanket voter technology upgrades across that entire state, though very little will be in place by November.

Other states are riding a fine line between voter technology upgrades and tight state budgets. They are improving only where necessary to support areas of high populations. Such is the case in West Virginia, which upgraded all of the voting machines in its Harrison County last year, but has no plans to upgrade elsewhere before November’s big contest.

States that are out ahead this time seem to be ones that experienced the most problems during previous elections. That makes sense, but voters should not have to take their chances based on the state or even the county where they live. It will be interesting to see if a state like Virginia, which completely modernized, is free from problems in November. If so, it would be a great road map that other states can, and probably should, follow. After all, most states will need to upgrade their voting technology soon anyway, and it’s probably best to do it before the next big controversy lands them in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

 

 

John Breeden II
About John Breeden II
John Breeden II is an award winning journalist and reviewer with more than 20 years of experience covering technology and government. He is CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys. Contact him at 21ctt@meritalk.com.
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