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Why voting machines malfunctioned on Election Day

More than 40 states use voting machines that are more than a decade old.

From Georgia to New York to Michigan, Election Day 2018 was mired by complaints about malfunctioning voting machines — causing long lines and, in some cases, voters to leave without casting a ballot.

Why is this happening? It’s not complicated. As the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy think tank, reported earlier this year, the problem is a lot of voting machines are old.

Lawrence Norden and Wilfred Codrington explained in the Brennan Center report: “This year, 41 states will be using systems that are at least a decade old, and officials in 33 say they must replace their machines by 2020.” By Brennan’s count, 43 states are using voting machines so old that they’re not even manufactured anymore.

Older machines are more likely to malfunction. Parts break down, and software becomes outdated.

But, especially when they’re no longer manufactured, older voting machines are also more difficult to repair. As the Brennan Center explained, “A primary challenge of using machines no longer manufactured is finding replacement parts and the technicians who can repair them. These difficulties make systems less reliable and secure. Several election officials have told the Brennan Center they scavenge for spare parts on eBay, and even there, many of the parts are no longer available.”

This not only results in long lines and other practical problems to voting, the authors noted, but also poses a potential security threat. Older machines, for example, are more likely to run outdated software or operating systems that no longer get security updates — making them potentially vulnerable to newer threats.

The fix is simple: States need to buy new voting machines, and they need to do it more regularly. And, ideally, states would do this before a major election year. As Sherry Poland, director of elections in Hamilton County, Ohio, told the Brennan Center, “You want to implement new systems in a year when poll workers won’t be so busy. Macy’s wouldn’t roll out new cash registers on Black Friday.”

For state and federal lawmakers, that means putting more funding toward voting machines — and soon. Maybe the problems reported on Tuesday will finally convince lawmakers that the money is necessary.

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