Like clockwork, every four years, presidential elections spark a debate on the faults of the voting system in America. Because it is unlikely that there will be any major changes to the electoral college in the near future, the nation must focus on making the current system work as smoothly and as accurately as possible. This includes maintaining properly functioning electronic voting machines at the polls. Although the public may dismiss such concerns as inconsequential, a recent study by NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice strongly revealed that America’s voting machines are outdated and extremely susceptible to fraudulent activity.
The study looked at data from all 50 states and found that 43 use machines past 10 years, their maximum lifespan. Fourteen states use machines older than 15 years, and nearly every state utilizes some models that are no longer in production. By refusing to update machines that were built before young voters were even born, the nation is accepting that elections for the most powerful office in the country hinge on devices less advanced than floppy disks and VCR players. Granted, there are significant costs, and most local governments cannot afford to replace their equipment. The study estimates that the nation would need to spend one billion dollars to acquire adequate machines for every polling place in America, but it also states that money spent would be offset with long-term savings.
In a country with over 100 million votes cast during presidential elections, a few ballot discrepancies here and there may not seem like big deal. But, as Florida demonstrated in 2000, there is incredible potential for voting inaccuracies at the state level, particularly in battleground states with much electoral influence. Furthermore, a tie in the electoral college has been a real possibility in recent years. Such a case in 2016 would allow a partisan Congress to decide the next president, making the stakes even higher. Yet the biggest concern here are local elections that are decided by just hundreds of votes — small margins easily affected by errors in voting technology.
Finally, it is important to recognize that old machines are vulnerable to hackers as well. Russia has already shown that it is not above interfering in U.S. elections, and our antiquated voting technology is essentially a flashing welcome sign for hackers, both domestic and foreign.
As political analysts wrack their brains over each speech by the candidates, every electoral possibility and the dozens of daily polls, they are ignoring perhaps the greatest danger to our whole political process — old voting machines. Delaying a fix until a real electoral dispute occurs would lead to a range of problems, from minor headaches to violent protests. If we’re going to preserve the integrity of American democracy, we need to make it a priority to prudently maintain our voting equipment.
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Email Akshay Prabhushankar at [email protected]