If you’ve wondered why voting machine problems seem to occur again and again around the country and what can be done about it, the Brennan Center at New York University School of Law has an answer. A report released last week by the non-partisan organization, Voting System Failures: A Database Solution, found that in the absence of requirements to report malfunctions, vendors do not keep election officials informed about voting system defects. The report recommends several remedies for this pervasive problem. Among other conclusions, it calls for a searchable national database of voting machine problems to be created and made available to the public.

The report found that election officials “must rely almost exclusively on the voting system vendors for information about malfunctions, defects, vulnerabilities and other problems that the vendors have discovered, or that have occurred with their voting systems in other states“. Vendors “don’t have an incentive to inform [election officials] of certain problems with their systems”. Noting that this leads to repeated failures of systems year after year, ” these malfunctions – and their consequence, disenfranchisement – could have been avoided had election officials and/or public advocates known about earlier problems and had an opportunity to fix them”.

The report studied fourteen cases of voting machine problems that “resulted in the temporary or permanent miscount or loss of votes” and which could have been prevented with better “oversight and reporting requirements”. Documenting common machine failures, lack of communication from vendors, and legal and contractual limitations which prevent election officials from reporting problems, the Brennan Center calls for a new regulatory structure consisting of four elements:

  • Creation of a publicly available, searchable database of voting system failures, vulnerabilities, and reported problems.
  • Designation of a Federal Agency with power to investigate voting system failures.
  • Requiring vendors to report known and suspected voting system failure to the designated Agency.
  • Giving the designated Federal Agency enforcement powers if vendors fail to fix problems.

The report cites several election officials calling for a national database of voting machine problems. Given the difficulty they have getting important information about their expensive systems, it’s not hard to see why. The Brennan Center proposal is an excellent idea, and one that election officials and the public can enthusiastically support.