The controversial 2000 presidential election was a pivotal point in U.S. elections. The now famous Florida election recount, due to questions around the perforated hanging chads, led to the passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The federal law required states to get rid of outdated punch cards and voting boxes with pull-levers. In their place, states moved to electronic voting systems.

However, like most technology, the electronic voting systems that states purchased over a decade ago are already outdated and some officials are crossing their fingers that they’ll even work for their 2016 primary elections and the general election in November.

Michigan and 42 other states have electronic voting equipment that is more than a decade old and, while some may be tested before Election Day, the older equipment can be fussy.

“So far, knock on wood, nothing’s happened to them… this year with having four elections. We are all holding our breath,” Minde Lux, county clerk in Isabella County, Michigan, said about the voting machines. Joe Rozell, Oakland County, Michigan Director of Elections said the county is “running into issues with memory cards and some motherboards.”

Like Lux and Rozell, other election officials may be holding their breath too…

In Virginia, some voters found a machine would register the vote for another candidate than the candidate they had selected. Orange County in California had to replace cable connections with military grade hardware on 11,000 direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines.

Top States Issuing Solicitations for Direct-Recoding Electronic Voting Machines - Onvia

State and Local Agencies Looking for Help to Address Issues with Voting Technology

The main reason why aging systems are still in use in many jurisdictions is lack of funding, but some state and local governments are making strides toward innovative election technology and hope to ensure better voting functionality and security.

Travis County in Texas
County officials want “modern and imaginative” solutions to incorporate quality software so voting is more secure, accurate and transparent. The county issued a request for information in June 2015 to find vendor assistance to help advance its STAR-Vote—Secure, Transparent, Auditable and Reliable systems.

The county is intent on setting “new standards in the accuracy of electronic voting, the security of cryptography, the transparency of paper vote records, the auditability of each step of the election process, and the ability to reliably confirm the correct outcomes of each election.”

The RFI asks vendors for their feedback on system and software design and to develop a framework on how to manage future system modifications. The county wants STAR-Vote to be innovative enough to be able to evolve as new operating systems, software and hardware enter the marketplace.

While some officials are inviting out-of-the-box thinking, others still need to comply with federal guidelines. A 2015 spending forecast showed that Shelby County in Tennessee plans to spend $1.2 million for a voting machine system to ensure compliance with federal guidelines.

The county hopes that the new voting system will establish a more modern system and satisfy advocates of optical scan, paper verifiable audit trail and who oppose DRE voting machines. In addition, the new system will reduce the need for vender support on Election Day.

Here’s a snapshot of how other state and local governments around the country and dealing with issues a round voting technology:

Prince William County in Virginia
Will use the new Hart Intercivic Verity optical paper scanner and Touch Writer ballot marking device in the 2016 primaries and general election - a change from its past vendor.
The State of Rhode Island
Seeks a central tabulation system to which 39 regional tabulation sites can send their ballot counts and data as well as disability-accessible voting equipment and ballot on-demand printer systems.
The State of New York
Issued a request for proposals for a five-year, $75 million contract for voting systems, ballot marking or other voting devices.

How to Research Governments Planning to Spend on Voting Technology

As voting technology evolves and hacking threats become more prevalent, the need for newer and more secure electronic voting devices will offer the information technology industry—both hardware and software vendors—plenty of business in the coming years.

For instance, the City of Philadelphia budgeted $22 million in its adopted Fiscal Year 2016-2021 Capital Improvement Plan to buy new voting machines and technology. The funding will include hardware and software for optical scanners that read paper ballots, tabulation systems, ballot printing capabilities and electronic poll books. Vendors can expect the bid to come out soon as the funding is budgeted for FY 2016.

The Commonwealth of Virginia also stood out as having the largest number of budgets and capital improvement plans that noted funding for voting technology spending. The two examples below show that some cities in Virginia are actively planning not only for the 2016 election, but are already thinking about spending to prepare for the 2020 election.

The City of Alexandria
The city plans to spend $895,000 on new voting systems to replace the machines that were purchased in 2004. Officials want the new systems in place before the 2020 presidential elections.
The City of Richmond
The city has budgeted $613,000 for 2016 to buy optical scan voting machines and ballot marking devices.

As the 2016 election season heats up, technology companies certainly need to keep an eye on currently available voting technology solicitations for potential business opportunities in the near term. However, the most successful technology government contractors know that the need to upgrade outdated voting systems won’t be fully met in 2016 and are already studying budget proposals for future spending for the 2020 presidential election and beyond.

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