Last updated on: 4/23/2008 | Author:

Do Electronic Voting Machines Prevent Residual Votes?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) included the following definition for “Residual Vote” in the “Glossary of U.S. Voting Systems,” available on its website (accessed Apr. 21, 2006):

“Total number of votes that cannot be counted for a specific contest. There may be multiple reasons for residual votes (e.g., overvotes in a contest, failure to cast ballot before leaving polling place).”

Apr. 21, 2006

The National Academy of Sciences’ 2005 report titled “Asking the Right Questions About Electronic Voting,” included the following description:

“Residual vote [is] defined as the sum of overvotes and top-of-ticket undervotes (in which the voter indicates no choice for the most important contest on the ballot, and thus the ballot does not count as a vote). Overvotes are clearly errors, while undervotes are entirely legal and may reflect a voter’s preference to refrain from voting in a particular contest. Nevertheless, because the top-of-ticket contest (e.g., the contest for president of the United States) is the most important contest, it is assumed that an undervote for that contest reflects an error on the part of the voter.”


Charles Stewart III, PhD, Head of the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), released a report in Feb. 2005 titled “Residual Vote in the 2004 Election,” which stated:

“The residual vote…is all ballots cast that did not record a vote for president [if there is no presidential contest, this number is calculated using the contest that appears first on the ballot]. In a mechanical sense, a vote can fail to be counted either because there was no vote for president on an individual’s ballot (an ‘undervote’) or multiple marks (an ‘overvote’).”

Feb. 2005

The Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project published a report in July 2001 titled “Voting: What Is and What Could Be,” which included the following description:

“Residual votes, the number of uncounted, unmarked, and spoiled ballots, provide a yardstick for measuring the effect of different machine types on the incidence of lost votes. Ballots that contribute to the residual votes are:

  • Uncounted ballots – Ballots that are cast by voters but uncounted by election officials for whatever reason.
  • Unmarked ballots – Sometimes termed the ‘undervote.’ May occur because the voter abstained or the recording device did not register a mark.
  • Overvoted ballots – Ballots that record a vote in more than one place for a given office (unless the ballot explicitly allows for more than one choice to be made.) May occur because the voter clearly marked more names than allowed. Often occurs when a voter places a legal mark nest to a candidate’s name and then writes the same name on the ‘write-in candidate’ line on the ballot.”
July 2001

Kay J. Maxwell, President of the League of Women Voters of the United States, stated in her May 5, 2004 testimony before the United States Election Assistance Commission:

“Residual votes represent the votes that do not properly record the voter’s intent, or don’t record any vote at all because of problems in voting mechanisms. This is an ongoing problem that regularly means that millions of votes are lost.”

May 5, 2004

PRO (yes)


The Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2005 report “Elections: Federal Efforts to Improve Security and Reliability of Electronic Voting Systems Are Under Way, But Key Activities Need to Be Completed,” stated:

“These [electronic voting] systems are also designed not to allow overvotes. For example, if a voter selects a second choice in a two-way race, the first choice is deselected. In addition to this standard feature, different types of systems offer a variety of options, including…

  • A ‘no vote’ option. If allowed by the state, this option helps avoid unintentional undervotes. This provides the voter with the option to select ‘no vote’ (or abstain) on the display screen if the voter does not want to vote on a particular contest or issue.
  • A ‘review’ feature. This feature requires voters to review each page of the ballot before pressing the button to cast the vote.
  • Visual enhancements. These features include, for example, color highlighting of ballot choices and candidate pictures.”


Diebold Election Systems, Inc. included a Frequently Asked Questions section on their website (accessed Apr. 25, 2006) which included the following product description of their AccuVote-TSX model electronic voting machine:

“The AccuVote-TSX touch-screen ballot station does not allow a voter to select more than the designated candidates or selections for a specific race, eliminating the opportunity to over-vote.

The AccuVote-TSX touch-screen ballot station offers a summary page to the voter once the voter has sequenced through the entire ballot. The summary page will indicate via a distinct color which races have been under-voted. A touch of the screen on the under-voted race will cause the AccuVote-TSX to return the voter to the under-voted race within the ballot and allow the voter to complete the voting process. A voter can step back and forth through the ballot, changing any selection until the ballot is ‘cast.’ The system will allow an under-voted ballot to be cast if it was the voter’s intent not to vote in a race.”

Apr. 25, 2006


The Election Technology Council’s Frequently Asked Questions section (Oct. 2005) on their website stated:

“While the characteristics of DRE [direct recording electronic voting] systems vary, these voting solutions prevent voters from voting more than once (over voting) and provide mechanisms for allowing the voter to correct unintentional under voting. When balloting is completed, voting selections are presented back to the voter for verification. DRE systems generally provide options for the voter to go back and correct mistakes.”

Oct. 2005


Paul Boutin, former Senior Editor of Wired magazine, wrote in his June 2004 article “Is E-Voting Safe?”:

“Touch-screen systems can reduce several common mistakes voters make in the booth. They provide immediate feedback on your vote, helping to ensure that you don’t vote for too many candidates in a race, forget to vote on an issue, or enter an unintended vote because you misread the interface.”

June 2004

CON (no)


VotersUnite!, an election integrity advocacy organization, explained how electronic voting machines contributed to high undervote rates in majority Hispanic and Native American districts in its Feb. 25, 2007 “2004 and 2006 New Mexico Canvass Data Shows Undervote Rates Plummet in Minority Precincts When Paper Ballots Are Used”:

“Surveys show, and experts agree, that a 0.5% undervote rate is normal in the presidential contest… Analysis of New Mexico precinct vote data for the November 2004 and November 2006 elections show that for the major contests on the ballot – president in 2004 and governor in 2006: paper ballots tabulated by optical scan systems have similar undervote rates for all ethnicities; electronic ballots cast on Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines in Anglo precincts have a similar undervote rate to the rate for paper ballots; electronic ballots cast on DREs in Native American and Hispanic precincts have significantly higher undervote rates.”

Feb. 2004


The Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project report “Voting: What Is and What Could Be,” July 2001 stated:

“Some technologies have excessively high rates of residual votes. In particular, paper ballot systems tend to show lower residual votes than lever machines and electronic machines…

We believe that the high rate of residual votes of DREs stems from the user interfaces. We have examined many of these machines. The mechanics of voting on these machines are often confusing. It is often not obvious how to undo a selection, how to check that all races have been voted, how to distinguish between the offices, and how to register the votes. Some interfaces are ‘too responsive’: a voter can push a button for the next page and more than one page will pass by without the voter seeing it…

[I]n terms of one very basic requirement-minimizing the number of lost votes-electronic voting does not have a very good track record.”

July 2001


Barbara Simons, PhD, Computer Scientist and Former President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in her Oct. 2004 paper “Electronic Voting Systems: The Good, The Bad, and The Stupid” ACM Queue wrote:

“In January 2004 a special election was held in Broward County, Florida. Only one contest was included on the ballot. Yet, of the 10,844 votes cast on ES&S (Election Systems and Software) paperless touch screen voting machines, 134 were…for no one at all [under votes]. Since the winning candidate won by only 12 votes, people understandably wondered what had become of those 134 votes.”

Oct. 2004


Verified Voting Foundation’s website included a Frequently Asked Questions About DRE Voting Systems section (accessed Apr. 25, 2006) which included the following entry:

“Problems in DRE machines are routine…Here is one of many examples: In March 2002, in the city of Wellington, Florida, there was a runoff election between two candidates for a single office. The final tally was 1,263 to 1,259, but 78 ballots had no recorded vote [under votes]. Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore put forth the implausible explanation that those 78 people came to the polls yet chose not to vote for the only office on the ballot!”

Apr. 25, 2006