Electronic voting systems

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Electronic voting systems are computer systems used to cast and/or count votes in an election. The United States currently uses electronic voting systems for nearly all national, state, and local elections. Votes may be cast on paper ballots, hand-marked or machine-printed, or directly on voting machines, but practically every jurisdiction counts them on computers.

The use of electronic voting systems is a major threat to election integrity. Computers are fundamentally "black boxes", which take votes as input and output a count that's trusted to be accurate. Programmers, election insiders, and hackers with access to the machines can change their behavior and rig an election. Most electronic voting systems are riddled with security flaws and managed by private corporations, making election fraud a very real possibility.

Old technology

Punch card tabulators

The first electronic vote tabulators were based on punch cards. Voters would make selections by punching holes into one or more cards, and feeding them into a punch card tabulator. That machine would analyze the punched holes and produce a vote tally.

Punch card voting became popular starting in the 1960s with the Votomatic system. However, the Florida recount debacle in 2000 turned public opinion against punch cards. Hundreds of thousands of votes were left uncounted due to incompletely-punched holes (undervotes) and multiple punched holes (overvotes). In the ensuing recount, election officials tried to ascertain voter intent from these disputed ballots, leading to famous media images and public belief that the election was decided by "hanging chads".

As a result of 2000, states began migrating to more modern electronic voting systems. But punch card voting remained in use for some time, most notably in the 2004 Ohio election with their ES&S and Triad tabulators.

Current technology

Numerous issues came to light during the 2000 election, including confusing ballots, malfunctioning machines, and missing votes. In response, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which gave grants to states to modernize their voting systems. By 2010, all states had converted to optical scanners and DRE machines.

The optical scan and DRE market is dominated by a few key companies: ES&S, Dominion (which purchased Premier/Diebold and Sequoia), and Hart Intercivic. Some smaller players, like Microvote and Danaher, also exist.

Individual voting machines rely on an election management system (EMS) for election setup and results aggregation. Before the election, the candidates and races need to be defined and programmed onto all the machines. After polls close, the results from all the precincts in a jurisdiction need to be summed together. A standard PC running the EMS software, often called the central tabulator, is behind these tasks. Officials use the EMS software to lay out the election, send it to all the voting machines, and receive results back from them at the end of election day. Voting machines and the EMS transfer data back and forth through removable media (often memory cards) or a network (such as dial-up or local intranet).

Optical scanners

Optical scanners are computers that scan and count paper ballots. Ballots are fed into the optical scanner, processed, and added to a running set of vote totals.

Here are the most common optical scanners by vendor:

Direct electronic recording (DRE) machines

Direct electronic recording (DRE) machines have voters make their selections directly on a computer. Older varieties used push-buttons, while modern DREs are touchscreen-based. Each cast vote is stored electronically and totaled within the machine. Depending on the DRE model, there may or may not be a printed paper trail of each vote.

Here are the most common DRE machines by vendor:

Ballot marking devices

Ballot marking devices combine the permanency of paper ballots with the ease of DREs. Voters make selections like they do on a DRE, but all the ballot marking device does is print a ballot with the voter's choices. This paper ballot can then be counted by hand or fed into an optical scanner.

Future technology

Internet voting

Main article: Internet voting

External links