Why is it Necessary to Replace the Voting System?
Concerns about outdated voting systems are not new. In 2002, after now-infamous stories of various Election Day problems and ballots with “hanging chads,” Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) which, among other things, encouraged local elections officials to replace their voting equipment with modern technologies that improved voter access but also prevented problems like hanging chads or user-error that could cause a voter’s ballot to be rejected.
For many years prior to 2002, Sonoma County has used Mark-A-Vote, a paper-based, optical scan voting system which consisted of a paper ballot that is marked by the voter with a pen or pencil, then read by optical scan machinery and tabulated by a vote-counting program (BCWin). Because the majority of voters in Sonoma County vote by mail, retaining a paper-based system was preferred. Seeing no comparable system or urgency to replace it, Sonoma County chose to do minimal upgrades that ensured compliance with federal law. Sonoma County received approval to use a “blended” voting system that allowed continued use of the Mark-A-Vote paper-based system supplemented by disabled-accessible electronic voting machines for polling places.
Like all modern technology, voting systems rely on software that becomes obsolete quickly. Voting systems purchased after HAVA passed in 2002 are now 15+ years old! Aging systems have parts that are rare or no longer manufactured, and software that is no longer supported by manufacturers. What’s more, the software version included with the voting system when it was certified may not be altered; programming changes are forbidden and only minor software updates might be allowed with Secretary of State approval.