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A joint analysis from the Brennan Center and Verified Voting finds replacing aging voting equipment will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Voting Machines at Risk in 2022

by Turquoise Baker, Megan Maier, Lawrence Norden, and Warren Stewart

Between 2014 and 2020, the Bren­nan Center released a series of analyses detail­ing the prob­lem of aging voting equip­ment in the United States. Those analyses relied signi­fic­antly on data provided by Veri­fied Voting. Today, our organ­iz­a­tions update those analyses with a look at the state of the nation’s voting systems ahead of the Novem­ber 2022 midterm elec­tions.

The Bren­nan Center’s first over­view of voting systems in the United States, published in 2014, found that 43 states relied on machines that were past or near the end of their expec­ted lifespans. Four­teen states used at least some machines that were no longer manu­fac­tured and diffi­cult to repair. Outdated machines suffer frequent break­downs and create long lines at polling places. They are also more suscept­ible to error and fraud, risk­ing public confid­ence in elec­tions.

Since that report, the nation has made signi­fic­ant progress toward repla­cing its most insec­ure systems. In 2012, for example, the major­ity of Elec­tion Day voters in some or all counties in 16 states voted on direct record­ing elec­tronic (DRE) voting machines that do not produce a voter-veri­fied paper audit trail (VVPAT). Secur­ity experts have long iden­ti­fied DREs as a unique secur­ity risk. By 2022, juris­dic­tions in only six states (Indi­ana, Louisi­ana, Missis­sippi, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas) relied on those machines as their prin­cipal voting equip­ment — that is, the tech­no­logy used by most voters on Elec­tion Day in an elec­tion juris­dic­tion.

Outdated voting systems, however, remain a prob­lem. Machines are aging past their projec­ted life cycle without being replaced, leav­ing juris­dic­tions with systems that are signi­fic­antly more than a decade old. Many of these systems are no longer manu­fac­tured, which can make it diffi­cult or impossible to find replace­ment parts.

By the Numbers: Outdated Voting Equip­ment

Like any compu­ter­ized system, voting machines age into obsol­es­cence. For elec­tronic voting machines purchased since 2000, experts agree that the expec­ted lifespan for the core compon­ents is between 10 and 20 years. For most systems, however, it is prob­ably closer to 10 than 20. Further­more, accord­ing to cyber­se­cur­ity expert Jeremy Epstein, “from a secur­ity perspect­ive, old soft­ware is riskier, because new meth­ods of attack are constantly being developed, and older soft­ware is likely to be vulner­able.”

Today, 24 states, home to over 41 million registered voters, use machines first fielded more than a decade ago as their prin­cipal voting equip­ment. While juris­dic­tions in many states have replaced older voting machines in the last eight years, the need to replace equip­ment as it ages contin­ues.

States Using Principal Voting Equipment That Is 10 Years or Older

The age of equip­ment is just one way to estim­ate how soon juris­dic­tions will need to replace it. Another import­ant gauge is whether that equip­ment is still being manu­fac­tured. Many elec­tion offi­cials using discon­tin­ued systems have expressed concerns to the Bren­nan Center about their abil­ity to find replace­ment parts and tech­ni­cians to service these machines.

States Using Principal Voting Equipment That Is No Longer Manufactured

Currently, the prin­cipal voting equip­ment in 23 states with nearly 21 million registered voters is no longer manu­fac­tured. And approx­im­ately 40 million voters live in 26 states and two territ­or­ies rely­ing on assist­ive voting equip­ment — systems that are required under the Help Amer­ica Vote Act to ensure that indi­vidu­als with disab­il­it­ies can vote privately and inde­pend­ently — that has been discon­tin­ued. This equip­ment poses a seri­ous prob­lem for elec­tion offi­cials, since old and discon­tin­ued machines can be partic­u­larly diffi­cult to main­tain. One elec­tion offi­cial felt “lucky to be able to get spare parts” for the machines that had been discon­tin­ued in his juris­dic­tion.

States and Territories Using Discontinued Assistive Voting Equipment

Of partic­u­lar concern are juris­dic­tions that still use DRE voting machines. These machines, which may or may not produce a VVPAT, gener­ally require a voter to use a touch-screen monitor to vote. In recent years, a number of these models have “flipped” votes, with the touch screen incor­rectly regis­ter­ing voters’ choices due to calib­ra­tion errors asso­ci­ated with aging hard­ware. That, in turn, has led to viral videos and conspir­acy theor­ies of machines “steal­ing votes.”

While the number of juris­dic­tions using DREs has fallen dramat­ic­ally in recent years, nearly 26 million registered voters in 16 states live in juris­dic­tions that still use DREs for some or all voters as of Febru­ary 2022. And of those, more than 13 million registered voters live in six states (Indi­ana, Louisi­ana, Missis­sippi, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas) that use DREs without VVPAT as their prin­cipal polling place equip­ment for some or all voters.1

Four of these states have star­ted to address their DRE vulner­ab­il­ity. Louisi­ana passed a bill last year requir­ing new voting systems to “produce an audit­able voter-veri­fied paper record.” The state is in the process of select­ing new voting machines. A new Texas law requires the state to phase out DREs by Septem­ber 1, 2026, although curb­side voters may still vote on DREs without VVPAT. Indi­ana passed a bill in Janu­ary requir­ing juris­dic­tions with DREs to add VVPAT print­ers by 2024. New Jersey has required VVPAT since 2009. Despite that dead­line, many counties continue to use paper­less systems, purportedly because of a lack of fund­ing to replace them.

New voting machines that produce a paper ballot for each vote cast make it possible for elec­tion offi­cials to conduct post-elec­tion audits. Approx­im­ately half of all states and the District of Columbia conduct post-elec­tion audits, which require a review of paper ballots to check the accur­acy of the votes cast. With partisan actors fueled by the Big Lie conduct­ing partisan reviews that under­mine confid­ence in our elec­tions, it is becom­ing increas­ingly import­ant for qual­i­fied elec­tion offi­cials to conduct legit­im­ate audits of their own.

The Cost of Repla­cing Outdated Voting Machines

Repla­cing the outdated equip­ment listed in this report will cost several hundred million dollars over the next few years. Fail­ure to do so will leave our elec­tion systems vulner­able to break­downs, error, and attack, and further threaten public confid­ence.

States can replace a DRE without VVPAT with a ballot-mark­ing device (BMD), which allows voters to vote on a compu­ter­ized inter­face by inter­act­ing with visual or audio prompts, and a precinct count optical scan­ner, which scans and tabu­lates votes. We estim­ate that the cost of repla­cing the remain­ing DREs without VVPAT with BMDs and precinct count optical scan­ners will be about $105 million.2

DREs, however, make up just a frac­tion of the outdated equip­ment that has reached the end of its life cycle. We estim­ate that the cost of repla­cing prin­cipal polling place equip­ment and equip­ment for assist­ive voting that was first fielded in 2010 or earlier is over $350 million.3

Even with full replace­ment of these outdated systems, other machines and systems will continue to age out over the next decade. One of the chal­lenges for elec­tion juris­dic­tions around the coun­try is that finan­cial support often comes only when the situ­ation becomes dire (and some­times not even then). There has been no sustained federal fund­ing to admin­is­ter elec­tions or to main­tain the crit­ical infra­struc­ture that supports those elec­tions.

In the next five years, tens of thou­sands of voting machines will have been in the field for nearly a decade. We estim­ate that the cost of repla­cing equip­ment first fielded between 2010 and 2016 will be more than $230 million, for a total cost of more than $580 million for repla­cing outdated voting equip­ment over the next five years.4 These estim­ates do not include the cost of regu­lar secur­ity main­ten­ance for things like secur­ity patches, soft­ware upgrades, and licens­ing fees, which can be quite expens­ive, or the cost of repla­cing outdated mail ballot tabu­lat­ing equip­ment, which is used in every state in the coun­try. These scan­ners can cost anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000 each, and the total cost for repla­cing outdated mail equip­ment could easily cost many tens of millions of dollars more.

The price tag as we get further out in time will only grow. The Center for Secure and Modern Elec­tions has estim­ated that the full cost of repla­cing outdated voting machines over the next decade will amount to $1.8 billion.

This analysis was originally published by the Brennan Center here

  1. Registered voters in Kentucky and Oklahoma use DREs without VVPAT as access­ible voting machines. []
  2. To reach this estim­ate, we relied on Veri­fied Voting data from Febru­ary 2022. This estim­ate assumes that precinct count optical scan machines cost $5,000 each and ballot-mark­ing devices cost $3,500 each. We multi­plied each of these costs by 12,374, the number of precincts that use DREs without a voter-veri­fied paper audit trail for all voters. This amounts to $105,179,000. See State of Michigan Cent­ral Procure­ment Services, Revi­sions for the Contract Between Domin­ion Voting Systems and the State of Michigan, 2017,­ments/local­gov/7700117_555468_7.pdf; and Domin­ion Voting Systems, “State of Ohio Pricing, ITB:0T902619,” accessed June 24, 2021, 22–23,­ion%202021%20Price%20Sheet.pdf. []
  3. To reach this estim­ate, we relied on Veri­fied Voting data from Febru­ary 2022. We used $5,000 as an estim­ate for our per-machine replace­ment cost. We multi­plied $5,000 by 70,271, the number of instances in which a precinct uses either prin­cipal or assist­ive voting machines on Elec­tion Day that were fielded in 2010 or earlier. This amounts to $351,335,000. See State of Michigan Cent­ral Procure­ment Services, Revi­sions for the Contract Between Domin­ion Voting Systems and the State of Michigan. []
  4. To reach this estim­ate, we relied on Veri­fied Voting data from Febru­ary 2022. We used $5,000 as an estim­ate for our per-machine replace­ment cost. We multi­plied $5,000 by 116,787, the number of instances in which a precinct uses either prin­cipal or assist­ive voting machines on Elec­tion Day that were fielded in 2016 or earlier. This amounts to $583,935,000. From this figure, we subtrac­ted the replace­ment cost for prin­cipal and assist­ive voting machines used on Elec­tion Day that were fielded in 2010 or earlier ($351,335,000). This amounts to $232,600,000. See State of Michigan Cent­ral Procure­ment Services, Revi­sions for the Contract Between Domin­ion Voting Systems and the State of Michigan. []