Report: Aging Voting Machines Could Cause Election Meltdown

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A voter casts her vote in a voting booth in Thornton, Colo. Jack Dempsey / AP

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By Zachary Roth

America’s voting machines are reaching the end of their lifespans, and many states appear unwilling to spend the money to replace them, a detailed new report warns.

The impasse raises the threat of a catastrophic meltdown in next year’s presidential election.

The report, released Tuesday by the Brennan Center for Justice, paints an alarming picture. Experts say today’s machines have an expected lifespan of 10 to 20 years—closer to 10. But in most states, a majority of jurisdictions have at least some machines that were bought in 2006 or earlier, while in 11 states—including presidential battlegrounds like Nevada and New Hampshire—every jurisdiction uses such machines.

Fourteen states will use some machines that were bought over 15 years ago.

Election officials are increasingly sounding the alarm.

“We’re just really concerned,” one county election official in Missouri told the Kansas City Star recently. “Going into a presidential election year with old equipment – we don’t want to be another Florida.

RELATED: California moving toward automatic voter registration

Vastly adding to the problem is that many counties in desperate need of new machines don’t have the money to buy them, and state legislatures, not seeing the urgency of the issue, don’t look likely to give it to them. Election officials in 22 states told the report’s authors they do not know how they’ll afford new machines that they need.

“We heard from more than one election official that what they’re hearing [from state legislatures] is basically, come back to me when there’s a real problem. In other words, come back to me after the catastrophe,” said Lawrence Norden, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, and the report’s lead author.

“We don’t ask the fire department to wait until the truck breaks down before they can ask for a new vehicle,” Edgardo Cortes, Virginia’s director of elections, told the report’s authors.

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