Voting Machine Failures: Which states can’t handle them?

Computer systems fail—but what happens when those computers are counting our votes? Voters like us lose our most fundamental democratic right.

Voting machines break down mid-Election Day. Memory cards can’t be read. Non-existent votes get added. Legitimate votes are lost, miscounted, even given to the wrong candidate. The potential for error is significant, if not inevitable.

But losing our voice along with our vote is not inevitable. A new report released today by the Verified Voting Foundation, Common Cause, and the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic, measures the readiness of all 50 states to deal with voting machine failures. Some states are ahead of the curve–Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont, and Wisconsin are exceptionally well prepared to discover voting system errors  and assure that voter are still able to cast their ballot, and those ballots are accurately counted.

Some states, though, are woefully underprepared to deal with unexpected machine failures and system breakdowns, including long lines: Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.

The report–“ELECTION 2012: Will Voting Machine Failure Affect the Final Count?”–rates each state on a five-step scale, with the worst judged “inadequate,”, and subsequent steps labeled “needs improvement,” “generally good,” “good,” and “excellent.” In addition, it evaluates each state on five specific areas:

  • Does the state require paper ballots or records of every vote cast?  When computer failures or human error cause machines to miscount, election officials can use the original ballots to determine the correct total.  Additionally, the paper ballots or records can be used to audit the machine counts to determine if the outcome is correct.
  • Does the state have adequate contingency plans at each polling place in the event of machine failure?  Does the state protect military and overseas voters and their ballots by insuring that marked ballots are not cast online?
  • Has the state instituted a post-election audit to determine whether the electronically reported results are correct?
  • Does the state use robust ballot reconciliation and tabulation practices? These basic procedures help insure that no ballots are lost or added as votes are tallied and aggregated from the local to the state level.

Importantly, the report also makes concrete recommendations election officials can take now, in the weeks leading to November 6, to assure that backup measures, such as emergency paper ballots and sound ballot counting practices, are in place.

Read the full report and find out how your state stacks up.

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