National: Voting’s ‘impending crisis’ | Al Jazeera

September 16, 2014

A recent presidential commission report on election administration characterizes the state of U.S. voting machines as an “impending crisis.” According to the report, created in response to a presidential order, existing voting machines are reaching the end of their operational life spans, jurisdictions often lack the funds to replace them, and those with funds find market offerings limited because several constraints have made manufacturing new machines difficult. On Election Day, these problems could translate into hours-long waits, lost votes and errors in election results. In the long term, such problems breed a lack of trust in the democratic process, reducing the public’s faith in government, experts say. According to Barbara Simons, a member of the board of advisers to the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the problem can’t be avoided any longer. “People died for the right to vote as recently as the civil rights movement,” she said. “The American Revolution was all about being able to control our own democracy, and that means voting … We know that a lot of machines were breaking in the 2012 election. It’s not that it’s an impending crisis. This crisis is already here.” Also, outdated voting machines can present security risks both in hardware deficiencies (some machines use generic keys to protect sensitive panels) and in software flaws that are difficult if not impossible to detect when compromised, according to security audits. Assessing the security of many of these systems is difficult, however, since companies insist proprietary software and hardware may not be disclosed to third parties. Government audits are often not fully public. The current problem is rooted in the short-term fixes that were implemented to solve the last major voting crisis, in 2000, when unreliable punchcard machines led to ambiguous ballots in Florida, putting the presidential election into question. After further issues in the 2002 midterm elections, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) that fall. HAVA gave states millions of dollars to replace punchcard machines and created the EAC, charged with establishing standards for voting systems.

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