Time to replace our voting machines

Georgia must begin work immediately to replace its outdated voting machines. The integrity of our electoral process – and our democracy – depends on it.

Our election machines were purchased 13 years ago. After the voting fiasco of 2002, with long lines and extreme voter dissatisfaction, the federal government provided some $3.5 billion under the Help America Vote Act to replace outdated equipment throughout the United States.

The machines Georgia put in use have served us well and proven to be reliable with the exceptional – yet challenging — maintenance provided by the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University. The center is charged with the “ensuring the integrity of voting systems in Georgia through training, research, auditing and testing of voting systems.”

However, the election system currently used in Georgia is no longer manufactured. Consequently, maintaining the equipment and locating salvaged parts that are close to being exhausted is increasingly difficult.

Election experts across the country agree the lifespan of most elections systems is no more than 15 years — several generations in the world of technology.

Changes and innovations in technology occur exponentially every day. New technologies will provide new capabilities that will enhance voter and candidate confidence in our electoral process. Today, the importance of confidence in our government, including our elections system, can hardly be overstated. Georgia voters must know the method by which they cast their ballots is secure, accessible, and reliable.

This challenge was described starkly in the 2014 report of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration as an “impending crisis in voting technology … (which) arises from the widespread wearing out of voting machines purchased a decade ago.”

Experience has shown voting machines wear out electronically and physically in ways that are completely unpredictable. Memory cards and mother boards can fail and touch screens can go blank, causing unacceptable delays and frustration among the voting public. In some documented cases, physical deterioration of touch screens has caused votes cast for one candidate to be “flipped” to another candidate.

Further, securing replacement components for old machines, especially those no longer in production, becomes increasingly problematic and expensive for taxpayers.

The good news is that replacing our outdated equipment with the latest generation of electronic voting systems won’t break the bank. The new systems are designed to run on commercial, off-the-shelf hardware, defeat security threats we didn’t face a decade ago, and be more intuitive to the generations of voters who have grown up in the digital world. In addition, the new systems are “agile,” designed to incorporate improvements in technology as they are developed, tested and certified.

As we move toward our new system, state leaders must ensure all stakeholders are on board — election officials, technical experts and citizens groups such as the League of Women Voters – because public confidence in the electoral process is the glue that ultimately holds our democracy together.

There is time now to proceed calmly and thoughtfully, and to deal with suppliers from a position of strength. The middle of a crisis is too late. The time for decisive action is now.

Elizabeth Poythress is president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia.