A new study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that 43 states, including South Carolina, have voting machines that are at least 10 years old, past their life expectancy, and that’s likely to lengthen voting lines on Election Day. South Carolina has been using its current voting machines since 2004.
“How many people out there are using 11-, 12-year-old laptops? Probably not too many, and that’s because they reach the end of life cycle and become obsolete,” says Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the South Carolina Election Commission. He says the state’s voting machines are not obsolete, though, even though they are old.
“It’s accurate. It’s easy to use. It counts votes accurately. It does the things that it’s supposed to do. But we do see a slight uptick in some failure of machines, and that means that a machine can die on Election Day. Doesn’t mean the votes are lost–we can always go in and get the votes that were cast on that machine,” he says. That’s because the machines have redundant memory systems—three regular memories plus a flash card, so even if one or more were to fail, the votes would be backed up.
He says lines will be long in the upcoming presidential primaries and General Election next year, but that will be because it’s a presidential election year without an incumbent, regardless of whether any voting machines break down.
The South Carolina Progressive Network has criticized the state’s voting machines since before the state bought them. Executive director Brett Bursey says they were causing problems even before they passed their life expectancy. “We know because we’ve been running an 800 (number), 866 OUR VOTE is the number that’s been out there for a decade now that rings in our office, and we got 1,400 calls in 2008 during 12 hours, many of whom were people complaining that in the morning it took them sometimes two hours to get the machines up and running.”
Whitmire says the State Election Commission has been planning for years for the voting machines’ replacement. It plans to put out a request for proposals later this year, asking companies to give the state proposals for new voting systems. The commission won’t know how much the new machines will cost until it has a better idea of what the options are, but Whitmire says the estimate is $40 million, based on the $36 million cost of the current machines.
The commission has been asking lawmakers for several years to set money aside for the new machines, but lawmakers have budgeted only $1 million so far. The Election Commission will ask for the remainder in next year’s budget and plans to have the new machines in use for elections in 2017.