Counties grapple with aging electronic voting systems

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GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — As the 2016 election approaches, Texas counties are looking toward future elections and the possibility that the machines you use to vote might begin breaking down.

“The longer we delay purchasing new equipment, the more problems we risk,” the authors of a 2015 report from the Brennan Center for Justice wrote. “The biggest risk is increased failures and crashes, which can lead to long lines and lost votes.”

The report points to a lifespan of 10 to 20 years for key components in the electronic systems. Travis County uses machines from 2001. Williamson County uses a system that it purchased around 10 years ago, putting both systems in the range for issues.

“[Maintenance] can get tricky as these things get older in time,” said Christopher Davis, the elections administrator for Williamson County. “But we have the full faith in [the current electronic machines] and we intend to keep using them as long as we can.”

Davis says the county has begun discussions about using newer technology in the future. However, the county has not set definitive plans.

“I know in my short experience here that Williamson County is very, very fiscally responsible,” said Davis. “The scale between Williamson County and Travis County is going to be totally, totally different. So I think Williamson County is in a good place to consider this option or looking into putting public funds into improving the infrastructure of their voting system.”

The system Davis is looking into has not yet met its final approvals for use in elections.

Travis County is also eyeing a new system. It has $2 million budgeted toward the estimated $8 million cost of a new voting system, according to county officials.

Still, the financing for the replacement of aging systems could prove difficult for some counties. Local governments got access to federal funds after the problems in the 2000 presidential election that led to a high-profile recount in Florida. Some counties, such as Williamson, used the funds to upgrade their systems. However, local governments can’t count on that funding this time around.

The authors of the Brennan Center for Justice report wrote, “The federal government is unlikely to provide another infusion of billions of dollars, but the need to maintain and replace equipment grow.”

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