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Outdated voting machines across the U.S. are a $1 billion problem

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There’s a $1 billion problem with America’s voting machines – they’re too old. According to a 10-month-long study conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, 43 states are using some machines that will be at least 10 years old in 2016 when presidential candidates are on the ballot. In 14 of those states machines will be at least 15 years old.

Considering Florida is the father of the hanging chad that led to embarrassing headlines, a high-profile recount and, ultimately, George W. Bush, it’s not surprising that the Sunshine State is among those states with aging voting machines.

But that, according to authors of the study, is part of the problem.

“In fact, the machine-related flaws revealed on that Election Day had been problems for years, and were accompanied by warnings from experts and election officials that it was only a matter of time before they caused a catastrophe,” the study notes.

They explain there are problems happening in voting districts all across the United States, but because each district is handled independently, those problems are often not made well-known. What happened in Florida in 2000 was unique because it involved a high-profile, close-call election.

But the Brenner study found a major problem when talking to Supervisors of Election across the nation.

“Many argued that unless and until equipment is replaced, we will increasingly see problems from aging equipment that have already been occurring more frequently than they should — flipped votes, freezes, shutdowns, long lines, and, in the worst- case scenarios, lost votes and erroneous tallies,” the study reads.

Some of those problems include Leon County, where Florida’s Capitol is located. Prior to the 2014 election, that district functioned with voting machines that were 20 years old. The technology was so dated the local office had to turn to eBay to make fixes.

And while that district has since upgraded its system, there are other counties that have not.

“No one expects a laptop to last for 10 years,” the report compared.

And supervisors do recognize that, but don’t have the resources to make necessary upgrades. According to the study, of the 43 states with outdated voting machines, 31 states wanted to update systems. However, officials in 22 of those states said they didn’t know where the money would come from to make that happen.

Though Florida is listed as one of the states with about half of counties functioning with old machines, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are not among those. Both offices updated their optical scanners used to scan ballots at the polls in 2008.

And even though aging systems aren’t good for the voting process as a whole, researchers note that it’s not going to mean total chaos in 2016.

“No one we talked to predicted there will be a vast meltdown of all, or even most, of the nation’s voting equipment in 2016,” the study reads. “Aging machines do not all fail at once on a single day.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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