In 2002, when the Help America Vote Act established a series of deadlines for state adoption of voting systems that could be operated by a person with sensory or motion limitations without assistance, the assumption was that (1) the Elections Advisory Commission (EAC) would be a viable federal agency for the indefinite future, and that (2) with federal funds subsidizing the initial purchase of compliant electronic voting systems, that hardware and software updates and operating expenses would be manageable.
So in 2006, jurisdictions across the United States were legally required to make accessible voting systems available in every polling place. The systems themselves had to be purchased from private vendors, because no jurisdiction had the political will to rebuff commercial interests by making the design and construction of electronic voting systems a public government function. Because where would the profit be in that?
Not unexpectedly, selling voting systems turned out not to be the great business that people thought it would be. Companies made one huge sale prior to January 2006, and then had to survive by offering maintenance and programming packages. System update certification slowed, because the EAC collapsed, doomed by partisan divisions and a hostile Congress.
Electronic voting systems don’t last forever. Their buttons stick, their batteries quit being able to hold a charge, their ABS plastic shells get cracked. They get touched by thousands and thousands of fingers, rattle on the back of county delivery trucks, sit in stuffy warehouses, and eventually quit working.
Meanwhile, there are no replacement machines in the pipeline,
Accessible voting systems should be regarded as products of a natural monopoly (like interstate highways, national defense, and health care). Given this sad state, the best course would be to nationalize the electronic voting system manufacturing industry, adopt open-source voting system software, and ditch the charmingly unworkable model of an EAC governing body that is evenly split between Republican Party and Democratic Party commissioners. While split commissions are certainly good at immediately becoming gridlocked (consider the sad state of the New York Elections Board), a better model would be that of an agency run by an appointed executive director with a long guaranteed term of office. Like the Federal Reserve.
The crisis is really already here. The solution is simple – government-built machines, owned by the taxpayers outright, and supervised by a politically independent federal election agency.