The 2020 election season started with a technological mishap (remember the broken Iowa Caucuses app?) And will likely end with at least a few more. But that does not mean that we are facing a new, unprecedented crisis in democracy.
Understandably, much concern has been focused on potential postal voting issues this year. However, the Rube Goldberg machine in our voting system also includes a number of independent technologies, including servers hosting voter registration websites and devices for scanning ballot papers that count our votes. At any point in the system there is the possibility of glitches that can slow things down, and experts say we should expect some technical trouble on election day.
“I guarantee that something will happen on election day,” said David Becker, CEO and founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. “Election Day is the culmination of a process in which 150 million Americans are doing the same in a process run by approximately 1 million volunteers. There will be problems and mistakes. “
We’ve already taken a look at what hiccups can occur. The voter registration portals in Virginia and Florida went offline for registration on the last day – thanks to one Fiber optic cable accidentally disconnected in Virginia and an overwhelming amount of traffic to Florida’s location. Both States expanded the registration deadlines to compensate for the failures. In Georgia, voters can register for tablets generate a map that the voters then use in conjunction with a touchscreen device. But on the first day of early voting at the State Farm Arena, one of the largest voting centers in Atlanta, the Cards caused an “invalid” error when pasting into the touchscreens. Eventually the election workers fixed the problem by restarting all the machines. (The answer, even in a democracy, is almost always to turn it off and on again.)
Any number of disruptions on Election Day can slow the situation in any given place, as we’ve seen in years past, including electronic ballot books crash, Touchscreen Registration of the wrong voiceor optical scanning devices – used to count votes – Drop the ballot. While the vast majority of polling stations are unlikely to have problems, it is inevitable that some things can go wrong, sometimes leading to massive delays that can result in voters being unable to cast their vote.
Choice security experts often refer to a tradeoff between security and convenience. Touchscreen devices that record a digital ballot for example, while simple, are not considered safe because they do not create a paper trail. In recent years, many jurisdictions have switched to more secure systems such as hand-marked paper voices or voice marking machines that use a touch screen device to mark a paper ballot which can then be scanned with the retained paper trail.
According to the Brennan Center, more Americans will be using a paper ballot this year than ever since the vote was first digitized estimates less than 4 percent of voters will cast a ballot on a paperless machine. According to Mark Lindeman, co-director of Verified Voting, an electoral security organization, while moving to paper for security reasons can be good, any new change in technology can lead to glitches.
“It is quite common that a certain percentage of the machines fail. It is also true that election workers who are not familiar with the systems sometimes have problems getting them up and running in the morning,” Lindeman said, noting that the Pandemic has made it difficult to continue piloting new equipment “We are very excited about the move to paper, but this has not been a great year for any kind of technology transition.”
Of particular concern are jurisdictions that have recently introduced new technology, including several swing states. Georgia replaced All direct reporting machines with ballot machines in the last year. Voters in six counties used the machines during Local elections last fall, and the The state used the machines for its primaries, but these two pilots had some equipment malfunctions and many Georgians have not yet used the machines. Same goes for Pennsylvania in many regions, including Philadelphia, afterwards a rocky rollout of its new election marking devices.
Technical issues can do real harm, including disenfranchising voters: if the lines are seven hours long and you’re trying to vote on your 20-minute lunch break, there is one an opportunity you may not choose at all. Nor is it necessarily evidence of a premeditated attack or an undermined election, although President Trump is almost constantly pointing out election errors.
“I think because we are in this environment, common problems that we will of course see in any election become disproportionate,” said Lawrence Norden, director of electoral reform program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. “They are easy to use for disinformation. [to suggest] that there is a major problem with the system or that the system has been hacked. However, these problems only arise if you have 10,000 different elective dishes using different technologies. “
In other words, an isolated incident does not necessarily indicate an existential crisis. Come on and think about it, this is advice for the next few months in general.