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'Crisis for American Democracy': It's 2018, in the Richest Nation on Earth, and Voting Machines Still Distorting Elections

"Voting machines that flip votes don't need to be hacked by a malicious foreign actor to undermine public confidence in the integrity of our democracy. That's being done for Americans, by Americans."

Poll worker Mary Ellison prepares a voting machine at the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge during the South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary February 27, 2016 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

It's 2018, and the United States is the richest nation in the history of the world... but much of the country still doesn't have functional, glitch-free voting machines.

"This machine problem is essentially threatening to call into question the entire election in Texas."
—Beth Stevens, Texas Civil Rights Project
As if the barriers to voting erected by right-wing politicians looking to suppress minority turnout weren't enough, error-riddled, hack-prone, and outdated voting machines throughout the nation—from Texas to Georgia to Wisconsin—are wreaking havoc in the midst of an unprecedented surge in early voting and raising alarming questions about the integrity of vote counts less than 24 hours before millions cast their ballots in the critical midterm elections.

In Texas, where Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke is vying for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's seat in an extremely close race that has drawn national attention, civil rights groups have alleged that voting machines are deleting Democratic votes entirely or switching them to the Republican candidate.

"This machine problem is essentially threatening to call into question the entire election in Texas," Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, told Politico.

In a tweet on Sunday, the Brennan Center for Justice called on voters to immediately notify poll workers if their votes are being switched to a different candidate:

Similar problems have marred Georgia's gubernatorial race, where Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp—who is also in charge of overseeing the state's elections—is taking on Democrat Stacey Abrams, who recent polls show is less than three points away from the lead.

In the build-up to Tuesday's election, Kemp has deployed a number of tactics voting rights advocates have decried as dirty tricks to purge hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls and prevent thousands more from exercising their constitutional right to the franchise.

"What we're seeing now is a concerted effort to make sure that our election system does not work for everyone."
—Sue Halpern, New Yorker

On top of these efforts, civil rights groups have accused Kemp of deliberately ignoring calls to replace Georgia's outdated voting machines, which the Georgia NAACP alleged during early voting in recent weeks were changing selections from Abrams to Kemp.

But because Georgia is one of five states that use entirely paperless voting machines, there is no paper trail to confirm and remedy machine errors.

"We've experienced this before," Phyllis Blake, president of the Georgia NAACP, told USA Today of the voting machine issues in an interview late last month. "They should have been replaced about 10 years ago."

As the New Yorker's Sue Halpern noted on Sunday, deeply flawed and outdated voting machines "reflect a wider crisis for American democracy," and the GOP's continued refusal to fix these flaws is intricately connected to the party's decades-long assault on voting rights.

"What we're seeing now... is a concerted effort to make sure that our election system does not work for everyone," Halpern concluded. "Voting machines that flip votes don't need to be hacked by a malicious foreign actor to undermine public confidence in the integrity of our democracy. That's being done for Americans, by Americans."

Writing for the New York Review of Books on Monday, attorney and election integrity advocate Jennifer Cohn also warned that unreliable voting machines pose an existential threat to the nation.

"This potential weakness is critical," writes Cohn, "because the entire system of our democracy depends on public trust—the belief that, however divided the country is and fiercely contested elections are, the result has integrity. Nothing is more insidious and corrosive than the idea that the tally of votes itself could be unreliable and exposed to fraud."

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