Voting Technology


The technology of voting systems has been experiencing an accelerating rate of change over the past few decades. To gain perspective on the driving factors on voting technological development, study its history to date.

Types of Voting Technology

Note on terminology:the term "electronic voting" refers to voting systems which use computers to facilitate any aspect of the voting process, from casting to tabulation. Punch card systems which use computers to tally the vote are, in this sense of the term, electronic voting systems. Voting systems which manage the entire voting process without the use of physical ballots should be referred to as direct record electronic (DRE) voting systems.

Australian Ballot
A paper-based voting technology in which the ballot design is standardized and distribution of ballots kept within polling places. This innovation dramatically reduced various forms of vote fraud, including vote buying and voter intimidation. For a more information regarding issues specific to paper ballot-based voting systems, see Voting on Paper Ballots, by Douglas W. Jones.

Punched cards
A voting technology developed by Joseph P. Harris in the mid 60s to facilitate rapid, precise counting of paper ballots by computer. Voters punch holes in modified computer punch cards which are then automatically counted. Poor reliability of punch cards systems, most notably in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, has led to national legislation (the Help America Vote Act) calling for states to phase out their use in elections. For a more thorough introduction to punch cards and issues unique to the technology, see Chad -- From waste product to headline, by Douglas W. Jones.

Mark Sense
Introduced in the late 1970s, also not as optical scanning vote systems. Voters fill in ovals on a ballot in the same way one would mark a multiple choice exam. These marked ballots are then counted by computer. Mark sense systems have tended to perform better in real elections than other electronic voting systems. (See Residual Votes Attributable to Technology: An Assessment of the Reliability of Existing Voting Equipment) For a thorough introduction to the evolution of mark sense scanning systems and the unique problems this technology poses, see Counting Mark-Sense Ballots, by Douglas W. Jones.

Direct Record Electronic (DRE)
Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines eliminate the physical ballot entirely. Voters using these machines indicate their choices on a touch screen and the computer within the machine records their vote. When the polls close the vote totals in each computer are uploaded to a central computer for tallying.

Further information:

Internet Voting

Internet Voting systems allow voters to log in remotely via an Internet connection, using their own computers to cast their ballots. Use in official elections has been very limited due to abundant security concerns.