At Pew’s recent Voting in America meeting, there was lots of talk about replacing aging voting equipment and finding the funds to do so. We’ve also seen a renewal of calls for jurisdictions to switch to optical-scan balloting in an attempt to increase auditability.
In one jurisdiction – Hinds County, Mississippi – this discussion has already begun. But notwithstanding the tide of national opinion, there isn’t unanimous sentiment in Hinds to replace the old machines:
Of the state’s 82 counties, Hinds is the only one using its particular type of voting equipment, Advanced Voting Solutions with WINvote. Seventy-six other counties are using the Diebold/ES&S TSX voting machine, which has an optical scanner and its own tabulation system.
The Hinds County board is considering switching to an optical scanner system, said District 1 Supervisor and board president Robert Graham. “The machines we have are no longer manufactured, and the people who manufactured them no longer provide support,” he said. “We are looking so intently at the optical system because it’s what the majority of the state is using, and the secretary of state’s office recognizes it.”
But District 4 Election Commissioner Connie Cochran and Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn say the current system works well and is easily maintained by the county’s own technician and that there’s no need to spend taxpayer funds for an overhaul.
“The voting public likes our machines. The (November) elections went very smoothly,” said Cochran.
The current system was purchased in 2002, Cochran said. “They’ve outlived their life expectancy,” she said of the machines. “But because they’ve been maintained so well by the county, they are fine.”
There are lots of considerations involved in the decision, not the least of which is the availability about $1 million in federal Help America Vote Act funds. For that reason alone, it looks like the purchase will likely move forward.
But the Hinds example is instructive because it suggests that removing the obstacles we normally perceive to machine improvements (money, available technology) doesn’t always end the discussion; some policymakers (especially those in cash-strapped localities) are going to be hesitant to spend money on new machines if they feel like the old ones are working fine and familiar to their voters.
In other words, many folks (including me) have tended to view voting technology problems as a “can’t fix” problem without funding and a more stable market; the Hinds story suggests that even when jurisdictions CAN address the problem, they don’t necessarily want to – or even think they have a problem at all.