Editorial: No Crisis in CT, unless we make one

Last month the Brennan Center released a report: America’s Voting Technology Crisis <article> <report>

Launching several articles like this one in the Washington Post:  America’s voting machines are in need of a serious upgrade  <read>

  • It is true that many states have risky DRE (touch screen) voting machines that should never have been purchased and should have been replaced long ago.  Not just because they are old and old technology, but because the were never a safe option for voting.
  • It is true that we only keep our smart phones for a couple of years, yet we keep our telephones, our routers, our printers, and fax machines for much longer.  Even our autos are highly computerized and, as flawed as they may be, we expect them to keep going for us and others for a couple of decades.
  • It is true that there are better voting  machines available today than those purchased years ago, yet many are relatively old technology. None have been federally certified for years, based on out-of-date standards.  The newly reactivated Elections Assistance Commission is working to create new standards, while restarting and improving Federal certification.
  • It is also true that LA County and Travis County, TX have significant projects aimed a creating much better, and much more economical systems.  None have been completed, independently evaluated, or available for purchase.  Here is the fine print from the Brennan article:

Currently, [LA County chief election official, Dean] Logan is working with the design consulting firm IDEO to develop the specifications for an electronic-ballot marking device and associated components of a comprehensive, modernized voting system. Next, the county will move forward with a contract to manufacture the device. On the software side, Logan envisions the system relying on open-source software, which will be maintained in-house at the registrar’s office. Fortunately, Logan’s office has a robust IT department that maintains the county’s existing vote tabulation system, and will maintain the county’s next system.

Logan believes the project has the potential to change the voting equipment marketplace for the better. “The design approach we are taking should result in lower-cost voting systems and market expansion,” he said. “I think it has the ability to move the regulatory environment and the market to a more competitive landscape that could allow jurisdictions to replace systems at a lower cost than in the past.”

Logan plans to begin implementing the system in 2017, and achieve a complete turnover of equipment by the 2020 election cycle. Elections officials across the country told us they are watching this project closely, and are excited to see what Logan and his team develop.

The bottom line is that dramatically more capable, safe, and less expensive voting systems will become available over the next five to ten years. We could waste a lot of money and opportunity by purchasing and implementing “new” systems today, unless absolutely necessary.

Connecticut has older technology optical scan voting machines.  At a huge cost we could purchase newer systems, which are incrementally improved.  Meanwhile our systems seem to be functioning pretty much as well as when they were originally deployed, in 2007.  (There is some anecdotal evidence that they may need more effective maintenance attention, yet the failure rate is low, and every polling place has a backup machine.)  As we have said many times, Connecticut has the best type of system legally available – paper ballots, scanned under observation in the polls, followed by post-election audits and recanvasses.  Even in those rare cases where a machine fails (perhaps a handful of machines in about 750 polling places in each election), voting can continue while the backup machine is fired up.

For Connecticut this is a time for our legendary “Land of Stead Habits”. A real crisis would be a knee-jerk reaction to claims of a crisis. It would be the National reaction to 2000 and the Help America Vote Act all over again – in that case Connecticut had a relatively deliberate process, that in the end made the right choice – a year earlier it would likely have resulted in DREs and years of the bad situations highlighted by Brennan.

There will be a time to change deliberately, once better systems are available and proven.

 

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