Voting

Most jurisdictions satisfied with voting machines, GAO finds

Aging voting machines cost local, state governments 

Most local election jurisdictions are pretty happy with the performance of their voting machines and equipment.

According to an April 11 report from the General Accountability Office, 32 percent of voters voted in jurisdictions that relied on direct recording electronic voting machines, a model that security experts believe is susceptible to being hacked and that often lacks paper backups.

However, survey results found that, security concerns aside, those that do use direct recording machines wound up reporting higher rates of satisfaction around vote count accuracy, efficiency and ease when conducting maintenance compared to those using the other major model, optical scan ballots. Optical scan ballots rated higher for defenses against hacking, while direct recording machines got higher scores around protection from threats unrelated to cybersecurity.

Out-of-date equipment and technology has led to worries by some election administrators and third-party experts, but GAO found that those concerns have not trickled down to local election jurisdictions.

"We estimate that jurisdictions with 93 percent of the population did not experience equipment errors or malfunctions on a 'somewhat' or 'very' common basis during the election," wrote investigators.

Additionally, localities representing around 96 percent of the country's population said they were very or generally satisfied with the way their voting equipment performed in 2016.

The report came at the request of a Congress still grappling with fallout from the 2016 election and worried about aging and insecure voting machines. The agency identified four key factors that election officials consider when deciding to replace old voting equipment: cost, the ability to meet federal, state and local standards, timely maintenance and vendor support, and overall performance.

Currently, 13 states still rely in part or in whole on paperless voting systems. One of those states, Pennsylvania, is frequently considered a critical swing state during presidential elections and, according to data from the Brennan Center, had 6.7 million registered voters who voted on machines without paper backups of any kind -- the most in the country. On April 12, Pennsylvania's acting secretary of state ordered all jurisdictions to have voter-verifiable paper record voting systems in place no later than Dec. 31, 2019.

The recently passed omnibus spending package included $380 million in assistance to states to replace outdated voting equipment, while bipartisan legislation in Congress to do more recently picked up the support of Senate Intelligence Committee leaders Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).

However, the GAO report makes clear there is still ample room for additional dollars from states and the federal government. More than half of the 46 states that responded to GAO said they don't provide any grants or funding to localities for new voting equipment, and just 10 percent of jurisdictions reported having leftover funds from the 2002 Help America Vote Act for the same purpose.

GAO officials surveyed 564 local jurisdictions and 46 states and conducted in-depth interviews with five localities and seven voting machine manufacturers.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.

Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

Johnson has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. He can be contacted at djohnson@fcw.com, or follow him on Twitter @derekdoestech.

Click here for previous articles by Johnson.


Featured

  • Telecommunications
    Stock photo ID: 658810513 By asharkyu

    GSA extends EIS deadline to 2023

    Agencies are getting up to three more years on existing telecom contracts before having to shift to the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions vehicle.

  • Workforce
    Shutterstock image ID: 569172169 By Zenzen

    OMB looks to retrain feds to fill cyber needs

    The federal government is taking steps to fill high-demand, skills-gap positions in tech by retraining employees already working within agencies without a cyber or IT background.

  • Acquisition
    GSA Headquarters (Photo by Rena Schild/Shutterstock)

    GSA to consolidate multiple award schedules

    The General Services Administration plans to consolidate dozens of its buying schedules across product areas including IT and services to reduce duplication.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.