In the early days of the 2016 campaign season, people across the country are facing an issue that was supposed to have ended over half a century ago: voter suppression.

From five-hour voting lines in Arizona’s Maricopa County to denied access to the pollsin Wisconsin and North Carolina, this Presidential election — the first since theSupreme Court's significant rollback of the 1965 Voting Rights Act — has already been marked by serious barriers to accessing the ballot.

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However, voter ID laws, limited polling stations, and purged voter rolls are only part of the challenges facing the American electoral process in 2016.  There’s also a systemic threat that currently gets little to no airtime but should command Congress’ attention: the soundness and dependability of our voting machines. 

Across the country, local election authorities are tabulating crucial voting results using weathered, faulty, out-of-date machines from well before the smartphone era, machines operating with software on largely antiquated platforms like Windows 2000. 

In the age of iCloud, FitBits, and ubiquitous connectivity, why is the act of voting — our most sacred civic undertaking — dependent of technology from the age of the landline telephone?

While the average lifespan of a laptop computer is three to five years, a study by New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice notes that there are 43 states using computerized voting machines that are 10- to-15-years old.  These outdated machines are prone to crashes and screen freezes that can lead to long lines. 

These lines aren’t just an inconvenience but a real threat to participation in the democratic process.  Many people — including the vast majority of low-income Americans — cannot afford to take off work or pay for childcare in order to spend half of a workday voting. 

Old voting machines also pose deeper risks.  In an age of unprecedented cybersecurity threats, we need to ensure that our voting machines are secured to the highest standards.  It’s conceivable that any of a range of actors — from foreign governments to militant groups to extreme partisans — could try to hack an election. 

In 2015, Virginia decertified 3,000 voting machines used in about 30 counties after security vulnerabilities, including a poorly secured Wi-Fi, created the possibility that someone could alter election results without leaving a trace.

Congress can take action to safeguard our elections.

My bill, the “Verifying Optimal Tools for Elections Act of 2016,” or VOTE Act would allocate more than $125 million in HAVA (Help America Vote Act) grants to assist states in replacing machines that were at least five years old in the 2012 General Election.  These grants would match state funding at a rate of 2 to 1.

The VOTE Act would also allocate $75 million dollars in grants to assist in training poll workers, developing new voting technologies and protecting voting machine source code. 

The aim of the VOTE Act is simple: safeguard elections and ensure access to the ballot.

By providing just a fraction of the estimated $1 billion it will cost to replace outdated machines, communities around the country — including poorer counties and urban centers — can avoid long delays and critical breakdowns. 

The VOTE Act will help ensure that every vote is counted and every voice is heard.

The movement for fair and transparent elections is gaining momentum.  There is a grassroots crusade that looks to stop voter suppression laws from thwarting our democratic process.  As we work to solve the crisis of voter suppression, we must not lose focus on another crucial, inextricably-linked factor – the integrity of the very machines that count the votes.


Henry C. "Hank" Johnson Jr. (D) is the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 4th congressional district, serving since 2007.