US officials say ageing voting machines at risk

As one of the most contentious US presidential elections in recent times approaches, US election officials raise concerns about the reliability of the nation's aging voting machines.

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - After a bruising presidential campaign, voters are finally getting ready to make their choices on Nov 8.

But many will be entering their decisions into electronic voting machines.

And, in many places, there's no way to know whether their votes will be tallied accurately.

"We're not able to give them a voter verified paper trail," said Mr David Bjerke, director of elections for the city of Falls Church in Virginia.

The city of Falls Church, Virginia uses older machines that produce no paper trail.  Without one, it's impossible for a voter to know that their vote has been recorded accurately.

And Falls Church isn't alone.

Dozens of other places in Virginia use older paperless voting machines.

The state's elections commissioner has been pushing lawmakers to approve funding for new equipment, but the Republican-controlled legislature has failed to approve the request.

That means it's up to individual localities to foot the bill, and many don't have the money.

"It's a pretty big investment to purchase voting equipment and so a lot of localities, it's been a financial issue," said Virginia elections commissioner Edgardo Cortes.

Many ageing voting machines are also no longer in production, so finding a spare part to repair a broken machine can be difficult.

"I am simply cannibalising them for parts," said Mr Spooner Hull, owner of Atlantic Election Services.

Mr Hull sells and services voting machines in Virginia. His inventory includes ageing electronic voting machines that were built in the 1990s, still being used by four jurisdictions in Virginia.

"These are parts that I have taken off dead machines," said Mr Hull.

And Virginia isn't the only state relying on antiquated equipment.

A report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University finds 43 states will be using machines that are at least 10 years old.

"Electronic voting machines are essentially computers. We don't expect our laptops or our desktops to last a decade and  that's the kind of technology these machines are using," said Mr Christopher Famighetti, a voting rights research and co-author of report.

 

Outdated technology that some security experts say is easy for hackers to access.

"Anybody with a sufficient amount of resources and with the motivation can cause chaos in elections and the problem here is that election officials aren't trained to defend computer systems, they aren't trained to do those things, they're trained to run elections," said Mr Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Some areas are turning to innovation to solve the problem.

Los Angeles County is working on a system that uses a tablet-like touchscreen that can be upgraded and modified as technology advances.

Election officials hope to start testing the new machines in 2018, halfway through the next president's first term in office.