Voters in Polk County, Florida, will be using 16-year-old machines on Election Day this November, and they are either nearing or have already surpassed their average lifespan.
The region, which encompasses parts of the greater Tampa Bay area, is one of many jurisdictions in more than a dozen states that are using voting machines that are 15 or more years old in this year's election cycle, a report from the Brennan Center for Justice revealed last September.
Two years ago, ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, a 10-member commission President Obama formed to figure out how to prevent long lines at the polls after the 2012 presidential election warned that the state of voting technology was an "impending crisis."
Two years later, the situation isn't much better.
Lawrence Norden, a co-author of the Brennan Center report, told CBS News that while a lot of jurisdictions have bought new equipment or have developed plans to do so, there are still a number of places that are dealing with even older machines.
An overwhelming majority of the country -- 43 states -- will be using electronic voting machines that are at least 10 years old in this year's election, the Brennan Center report said. These machines last around 10 to 20 years before conking out. Many election officials, the report said, want to replace their aging equipment in the next five years, but a lot of them do not yet know where they'll find the money.
Much of the old equipment still in use was purchased with $3.9 billion in federal funding Congress approved in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, which was was spawned by the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida involving punch cards. That was the last time the federal government stepped in to help states buy new equipment. It doesn't look like Capitol Hill lawmakers are coming to the rescue anytime soon.
"There's a teeny bit left," said Lori Edwards, supervisor of elections in Polk County, about remaining HAVA funding. "You could probably buy two or three units or something...but not enough that could make a dent in any new [major] purchase."
Edwards said replacing the county's 16-year-old machines, which she described as still reliable, would cost taxpayers more than $2 million. She said she plans to soon make the request to the local government board and county commission.
Polk County uses optical scanners, which count votes as paper ballots are fed through them. Another common type of voting machine are touch-screen machines. These new-fangled, computer-reliant machines were supposed to herald the future of voting -- a post-paper electorate. Ironically, it turns out that holding a secure election means we still need those old-school paper ballots in order to verify votes or audit elections.
The lack of a paper trail can pose major problems if the machines are hacked or malfunction, which has happened before. These machines are vulnerable, for example, to calibration issues or "vote flipping." In 2012, a voter in Pennsylvania recorded a machine with his phone that had flipped his vote for President Obama to that year's Republican nominee, Mitt Romney. Voters in Virginia Beach experienced the same error with their machines in 2014. Last year, the city replaced them.
In Virginia's northern suburbs, Fairfax County has also replaced its touch-screen machines. After reports of machines crashing in the state during the 2014 election, experts found that a popular wifi-enabled machine had serious security vulnerabilities that could allow someone to hack the machine from nearby or in person. Virginia's Board of Elections decertified them.
"One of the biggest issues with these old WINVote machines were these two USB ports that could never be fully sealed. So if somebody wanted to install a piece of malicious software, they could come in, vote and install a thumb drive, you would never have known it," Cameron Sasnett, Fairfax's general registrar, told CBS News.
But those areas of Virginia are lucky. There are still more than 40 localities in the state that will still be using touch-screen equipment in November, said Virginia Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortés. Officials in those areas will have to figure out how to replace them in the next five years. Virginia's legislature just passed a bill that will eliminate all touch-screen equipment by July 2020. Last year, Gov. Terry McAuliffe asked the state to approve $28 million for new voting machines, but the GOP-controlled legislature didn't fulfill the request.
"It's very frustrating," Cortés said about Congress' lack of action to approve more funding to states. "Just having a one-time infusion of money, while it helped get everybody up to speed and set a baseline, there has to be some long-term thought here as to how do we properly fund elections. We're going to be dealing with this every couple of years."
Replacing old voting machines across the country could cost at least $2 billion, the Brennan Center estimates.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, is trying to revive the issue in Washington, though it probably won't see the light of day in a Congress, where House Republicans last year recommended eliminating the Election Assistance Commission. Johnson introduced a bill in April that would allocate more than $125 million in federal grants to assist states in replacing machines that were at least six years old in the 2012 elections. It would also allow states to apply for $20 million to develop open-source voter technology.
Los Angeles County is pioneering such an effort, one that aims to solve the problem of aging voting machines long-term. Home to nearly 5 million registered voters, L.A. is the largest jurisdiction in the country, and their current machines date back to the 1960s, but were upgraded in 2003 and 2006.
Since 2009, the county has been working on developing its own voting machine from scratch. Voters will be able to first mark their selections on a touch-screen machine, which would then print out their ballots and put them in a ballot box. Those physical ballots will then be taken to a central location and will be scanned and counted. Voters will also have an opportunity to pre-mark a sample ballot on a device like an iPhone or iPad and then can transfer their selections into the machine at the polling place using a QR code.
L.A. plans to test the new system during the early voting period in the 2018 midterm elections and then fully implement it for the 2020 presidential election. Because the city is designing its own prototype, it will likely solve long-term issues.
"If law changes or there are changes in voter behavior, then we wouldn't have to scrap the whole system and go out and purchase a new system," said Dean Logan, registrar-recorder for L.A. County. "Instead, we would update the user interface or update an improved touchscreen monitor if it's available or an improved printer if it's available."
But again, poorer sections of the country might not be able to afford new machines or invent their own. The lack of funding sources could create the conditions for another recount fiasco if officials don't get around to replacing their old machines in the next five years.
"The longer we fail to address the problem, the bigger the risk," Norden said.
"We have failures every election day and generally, we muddle through it. Eventually, you get to the point where you have enough failures where the votes cost by those failures exceed the margin of victory between candidates. When that happens in a high-profile contest, you end up with what happened in Florida in 2000. People were warning about punch card machines and their high error-rate for years before the 2000 election. Not enough people listened."