By Katy Owens Hubler
Voting equipment in the U.S. is aging, and will soon need to be replaced.
This is a refrain that we in NCSL’s elections team hear frequently from election officials. Furthermore many officials don’t know where the money for new machines will be coming from. We’ve been studying the impending crisis in election equipment for the last two years as part of our Elections Technology Project.
(A seven-ticket voting machine used in Denver, circa 1912)
The subject got a national boost this week with the release of a report on America’s Voting Machines at Risk from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
Some of the highlights:
- Unlike past voting machines, today’s systems are not meant to last for decades.
- Machines around the country are perilously close to the end of their expected lifespan.
- Almost every state is using some machines that are no longer manufactured and election officials struggle to find replacement parts.
- Election officials nationwide need new machines, but most don’t have the resources to purchase them.
Why does this matter to state legislatures? Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy—citizens must have confidence that their vote is being counted. Machines breaking down can shake public confidence to its core—something that no state wants.
Sources of funding for election equipment have been in flux since 2000. It used to be county governments that paid for voting machine purchases—often big, lumbering lever machines that would last for decades. Then, after the 2000 presidential election and its infamous “hanging chads,” the federal government provided money for jurisdictions to purchase new voting equipment. Now that money is mostly gone so the question is—what now?
NCSL will be exploring this issue in a new project, launching this month with a generous grant from the Democracy Fund, to study costs and funding for election equipment, and what role states can play in helping election officials obtain new technology.
As the Brennan Center report notes, “Ultimately, if we are to avoid a new technology crisis every decade, all levels of government—federal, state, and local—must work to ensure that we develop long-term plans and sources of funding to support and regularly update our voting infrastructure, just as we budget and plan to maintain (and periodically replace) other critical infrastructure, from roads and bridges to fire trucks and police cars.”
For more resources on the topic of election technology, visit NCSL's Election Technology Overview page.
Katy Owens Hubler is a senior policy specialist at NCSL. Email Katy.