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

Is It Less Expensive to Conduct an Election Using Electronic Voting Machines Compared to Optical Scan Voting Systems?

PRO (yes)


Sequoia Voting Systems, a manufacturer of electronic voting machines, stated in their May 2005 press release “Correcting Fallacies About Voting Technology Options for New York”:

“DRE systems are considerably less expensive to operate. Optical scan systems require two different types of hardware for each election and require costly printed ballots. Both the upfront hardware costs and the long term recurring costs are less expensive with DRE equipment than they are with optical scan technology.

A DRE machine, used by all voters regardless of disability, would cost roughly $7,500 per Electoral District [New York State requires full-face DREs, which are more expensive than other types of DREs] while an optical scanner ($5000) and a separate accessible machine ($7500) would cost $12,500 per electoral district.

The purchase and operation of a DRE system over a ten year period would be less than half the cost of an optical scan system when accessibility equipment and recurring ballot printing costs are factored into county budgets.”

May 2005 - Sequoia Voting Systems


Diebold Election Systems, a manufacturer of electronic voting machines, stated in a Mar. 10, 2005 “Letter to the Editor” to The New York Times, sent in response to an earlier editorial describing the benefits of optical scan systems over direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines:

“Regarding the stated cost advantages of optical-scan machines, you do not mention the long-term costs related to printing ballots that are inevitably passed on to taxpayers. These costs, particularly in large cities that require many ballots in several languages, are one of the primary reasons most election officials prefer touch-screens to optical scanners.

Additionally, optical-scan machines are not ‘far cheaper than touch-screens.’ Per unit, the cost of optical scanners is about $1,000 more than a typical touch-screen machine.”

Mar. 10, 2005 - Diebold Election Systems, Inc.

CON (no)


Teresa Hommel, JD, Computer Programming Consultant, explained in her paper “Optical Scanner Talking Points,” available on her Where’s The Paper website (accessed Dec. 1, 2006):

“Comparisons of the cost of running elections with DREs vs. Optical Scanners… demonstrate that it is less expensive to use scanners than DREs, even including the cost of printing paper ballots…

One factor that explains why having touchscreens costs so much more than optical scanners is because the county has to own and maintain so many more machines. Another is that the DREs require more maintenance and ongoing technical support from vendors.”

Dec. 1, 2006 - Teresa Hommel, JD


Rosemarie Myerson, an election reform advocates, stated in her Dec. 1, 2005 paper “Report on a Survey of Changes in Total Annual Expenditures for Florida Counties Before and After Purchase of Touch Screens and A Comparison of Total Annual Expenditures for Touch Screens and Optical Scanners”:

“The results from this study show that a county buying touchscreens will increase their annual expenditures by 57.3%. Owning optical scanners should increase their expected annual costs 16.9%…. One factor that may explain why having touchscreens costs so much more than optical scanners is because the county has to own and maintain so many more machines. We estimate that one optical scanner can handle six voter’s votes a minute (or 360 per hour) as they are cast but because it takes a voter at least three minutes to vote with touchscreens it would take at least 18 touchscreens to perform per hour as well as optical scanners.”

Dec. 1, 2005 - Rosemarie Myerson, PhD


Verified Voting Foundation explained in Appendix 4 (PDF) 50KB of their Oct. 8, 2004 Letter (PDF) 36KB to Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz:

“The DRE solution is therefore almost 3 times more expensive than a solution using ballot marking devices and a polling-place-based optical scanners, just in terms of initial capital outlay… When you factor in the increased maintenance costs (because there are physically more units to maintain) and the increased costs for logic and accuracy tests, security audits, the larger number of poll workers needed to operate DRE polling places, etc., the DRE solution will likely prove even more expensive in operating costs…

Also keep in mind that any jurisdiction that deploys DREs must still continue to print paper ballots (e.g., optical scan ballots) to meet the needs of their absentee voters. So it is false to argue that a jurisdiction will avoid having to print any paper (e.g., optical scan) ballots.”

Oct. 8, 2004 - Verified Voting Foundation