EAC’s Masterson on “Training the Funders” About Voting Technology: “We’re Here to Help”

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[Image courtesy of Twitter user kiniry]

The three new members of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) have hit the ground running – it seems like they’re everywhere recently – and now at least one Commissioner has entered the blogosphere. Matt Masterson has a new “Notes from the Road” post at the EAC’s website, which I hope will be the first of many from him and perhaps the other Commissioners. The initial post is on voting technology, and it’s reproduced below:

As my fellow Commissioners and I begin our work at the Election Assistance Commission we have embarked on a “listening tour” across the country to figure out where to start after several years without a quorum at the EAC.

One message is clear at every stop. As Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler said recently:

Addressing the House and Governmental Affairs committee Wednesday, Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler sent out an S-O-S on the condition of the state’s stock of voting machines. “I just will tell you that it’s getting a little scary out there,” Schedler said, reminding lawmakers, “Voting machine equipment is all 15-20 years, plus.”

Sulphur Rep. Mike Danahay, part of a contingent investigating new voting technology with Schedler, noted, “They’re having to scavenge parts off old machines to keep the current machines running.”

Schedler said parish registrars are have more and more problems with the laptops they use for tabulating votes cast during elections and transmitting the results to his office.
“They’re seven or eight years old,” Schedler said. “Can you imagine using a laptop seven or eight years old? That’s what we’re doing.”

The problem with replacing the aging voting machines is — of course — money. The federal government previously helped pay for voting equipment, but that money is spent. States don’t have spare funding to cover the expense, either. But Schedler says the issue is closing in on critical mass. “We’re going to have to find some way, somehow, to get this done,” Schedler insisted. “I’m not proposing doing it in one year. We’ll probably do it over a two-year period. And we’re going to have to find some inventive way of financing how we’re going to do it.”

At a recent Election Center conference, a Florida election official asked a compelling follow up to Secretary Schedler’s point: “How you can help us train our funders?”

She went on to explain that communicating with county commissioners and state legislators has become the ultimate “Sophie’s choice” for election officials. She pointed out one funder suggested that the only way they could draw attention to the voting equipment issue in order to get the funding was to have something go wrong during an election.

The question becomes: how do you express the urgency of the need to upgrade voting technology without inciting panic regarding the current systems and process?

Good news: the EAC can help.

Our position as a technical expert on current systems and developer of the next set of requirements for future systems makes us uniquely qualified to help spread the word. As the EAC moves forward on updating the voting system standards and certification program, it also must help election officials bridge the education gap between themselves and the public officials who pay their bills, so they can truly “train the funders.”

This post is incredibly important for two reasons. First, it shows that the new Commissioners understand that addressing voting technology challenges at the state and local level entails more than the (admittedly vital) work of updating voting system standards. Perhaps more importantly, it demonstrates that the new EAC is looking to engage directly with policymakers outside of Washington in order to start a conversation and address those challenges. That’s an extremely encouraging step.

Kudos to Matt for this blog and this post; I’m hoping it becomes a regular feature of the work he and his new colleagues do at the EAC.

Stay tuned!

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