We should have learned our lesson in 2000. After faulty voting machines allowed George Bush to swoop in and steal the presidency from the winner of the popular vote, Al Gore, lawmakers realized that they had to update their technology. But that was 15 years ago, and a new study has found that America is facing another voting crisis as the 2016 presidential election looms.
The report, published by the Brennan Center for Justice, states that “the majority of machines in use today are either perilously close to or exceed” their expected lifetime. As a result, they are prone to failure, and are often so old that repairing them can be difficult, if not impossible. This could mean long lines at the voting booths, erroneous results, and, in the worst case, a stolen election.
The Brennan study, which was conducted over a period of 10 months, and involved interviews with over 100 election officials and experts, found that 43 states are using machines that are at least 10 years old, and some more than 15 years old. Many machines use outdated operating systems such as Windows XP, which is no longer supported by Microsoft, and hence won’t be updated in the light of any new security holes. As the authors write:
“Unlike voting machines used in past eras, today’s systems were not designed to last for decades. In part this is due to the pace of technological change. No one expects a laptop to last for 10 years.”
President Obama has attempted to tackle this problem by establishing the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA), which issued a report in 2014 warning of an “impending crisis… from the widespread wearing out of voting machines purchased a decade ago.” But Republican lawmakers have consistently fought to make voting harder for the general public, pushing archaic and discriminatory voter ID laws, without any care for whether votes that are actually cast will be miscounted by faulty technology.
Just as voter ID laws disproportionately affect low-income citizens, the Brennan study suggests that poorer districts are most at risk for technical problems on election day: “without federal or state funding, wealthier counties will replace aging machines, while poorer counties will be forced to use them far longer than they should.” In addition, technical failures can mean longer waits at the polling station, which again is more burdensome for those who, for example, have to work two jobs. In contrast to his Republican opponents, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has proposed making election day a national holiday.
In June, Wichita State University statistician Beth Clarkson published a study arguing that voting statistics suggest voter fraud favoring Republican candidates in a number of elections in which electronic voting machines were used. “My statistical analysis shows patterns indicative of vote manipulation in machines… These results form a pattern that goes across the nation and back a number of election cycles… My assessment is that the data reveals multiple (at least two) agents working independently to successfully alter voting results.”
The statistical evidence is merely suggestive, and so Clarkson has filed suit to obtain the voting records necessary to demonstrate fraud. However, Kansas’s Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach is fighting tooth and nail to keep the information secret. Kobach is also a supporter of voter ID laws.
The Brennan report is alarming, and makes one ask: are we going to see another election debacle in 2016? The Republican campaign to suppress voters is disturbing enough, but can we even trust that those votes that are cast will be counted correctly? We cannot allow the most important election in the world to depend on machines that are less advanced than the average cell phone.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.