Voting Systems & Use: 1980-2012


hand counted paper ballot lever machine ballot optical scan ballot punch card ballot electronic voting machine dre
Hand-counted Paper Ballot Mechanical Lever Machine Optical Scan Paper Ballot Punch Card Electronic Voting Machine (DRE)
(1888) (1892) (1962) (1964) (1974)


I. Availability of Voting Systems in US Presidential Elections by Percentage of Voters
1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004 2008** 2012
Electronic Voting Machine (DRE) 1% 1.5% 3.5% 4.5% 7% 12.5% 29.5% -- 39%
Hand-counted Paper Ballot 10.5% 8% 6% 4% 2% 1.5% 1% -- 4%
Paper Ballot with Optical Scan 2% 4% 7.5% 15% 24% 29.5% 35% -- 56%
Punch Card 31% 35% 41% 38.5% 37% 31% 13% -- 0.02%
Mechanical Lever Machine 43% 39% 32% 28.5% 22% 17% 14% -- 0%
Mixed Systems* 12.5% 12.5% 10% 9.5% 8% 8.5% 7.5% -- --

*"Mixed systems" indicates a jurisdiction used more than one voting system. Because votes are anonymous, percentages of voters could not be determined for each type of machine. We could not find "mixed systems" data for 2012.
**Comparable numbers for 2008 were not available.



Data on
how many voters use a particular type of voting system in federal elections has been collected since 1980. During this time, there have been five types of voting systems used: lever machines, punch cards, paper ballots (with or without optical scanning), and DRE (direct recording electronic machines). Typically, a jurisdiction uses only one type of voting system throughout the jurisdiction. A few jurisidictions use more than one type of system, provide another system for impaired voters, or use paper ballots for absentee and overseas military votes.

Following the 2000 presidential election, the US Congress passed the
Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). Among the provisions of HAVA was the allocation of funds for jurisdations to modernize voting systems. Specifically, money was provided for jurisdictions to replace lever machines and punch card systems with electronic and optical scan systems.

As of the 2012 elections, the United States employed two primary voting systems: electronic voting machines (
DREs or direct recording elecronic) and paper ballots (with or without optical scan systems). Mechanical lever machines, popular from the 1960s to the 1980s, were completely phased out by 2010 in the United States. Punch card systems similarly diminished in popularity--down to only four Idaho counties (Bonneville, Clearwater, Franklin, and Shoshone) still using them.



availability of voting systems in presidential elections by percentage of voters


Sources:
Commission on Federal Election Reform, "Building Confidence in US Elections," www1.american.edu, Sep. 2005
US Election Assistance Commission, "A Summary of the 2004 Election Day Survery: How We Voted: People, Ballots, & Polling Places," www.eac.gov, Sep. 2005
Verfified Voting, "The Verifier," www.verifiedvoting.org (accessed Jan. 17, 2013)

II. 2012 Election: Availability of Voting Systems

In the 2012 election most voters used DREs or paper ballots with optical scanning. The chart below divides the categories of voting systems into specific type of machine and indicates whether a paper trail (VVPAT) was produced.

The chart shows millions of registered voters; because of voting registration errors (like deceased persons remaining registered and voters being registered in more than one jurisdiction), the numbers do not clearly align with US population statistics. Additionally, the chart is based on systems available to voters--meaning one registered voter may have more than one option at his or her polling place. Because of the possibility of voting system availability overlap, the numbers will not correspond to population numbers or to the number of registered voters in the United States.
voting system availablr to millions of registered voters represented

A major concern amongst opponents, and some proponents, of electronic voting machines is the lack of paper trail for audits, recounts, and voter verification. The chart below shows how many registered voters could use a paper ballot or a machine with VVPAT versus how many registered voters could use a machine without a verifiable paper trail.
voting machines with paper verification without paper verification



III. Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Systems
DRE (direct recording electronic) systems use one of three basic interfaces (buttons, touchscreens, or dials) to record votes into the computer's memory. Some DREs are VVPAT (voter verified paper audit trail) compatible, meaning the DRE is connected to a printer to allow the voter to verify his or her votes before the votes are saved in the computer's memory. The paper records are also kept and may be presented for audit or recount depending upon state election codes.

More information about DREs can be found at "What are electronic voting machines?"
dre voting machine


IV. Paper Ballots
Paper ballots, also called Australian Secret Ballots, are marked by the voter with a pen, pencil, or other marking device and are hand-counted or counted by an optical scanner. Some jurisdictions use paper ballots for election-day votes and a significant amount of jurisdictions use paper ballots for absentee and provisional ballots. hand counted paper ballot
The United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) described paper ballots on its website, www.eac.gov (accessed Feb. 22, 2006):

"A paper ballot system employs uniform official ballots of various stock weight on which the names of all candidates and issues are printed. Voters revord their choices, in private, by marking the boxes next to the candidate or issue choice they select and drop the voted ballot in a sealed ballot box"

Feb. 22, 2006 - U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC)

Stephen D. Ansolabehere, PhD, Professor of Political Science at Harvard University, described paper ballots in the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project's Mar. 20, 2001 article, 'Residual Votes Attributable to Technology: An Assessment of the Reliability of Existing Voter Equipment," available at www.caltech.edu:

"The oldest technology is the paper ballot. To cast a vote, a person makes a mark next to the name of the preferred candidates or referendum options and, then, puts the ballot in a box. Paper ballots are counted manually."
Mar. 30, 2001 - Stephen D. Ansolabehere, PhD

IVa. Optical Scan
With an optical scan system, the voter hand-marks a paper ballot that is then counted by a machine. Ballots are scanned and counted at the polling location or a central location for a jurisdiction.
The Federal Election Commission described optical scans on their website, "Marksense (Optical Scan)," available at www.fec.gov (accessed Jan. 16, 2013):

"Marksense systems employ a ballot card on which candidates and issue choices are preprinted next to an empty rectangle, circle, oval, or an incomplete arrow. Voters record their choices by filling in the rectangle, circle or oval, or by completing the arrow. After voting, the voters either place the ballot in a sealed box or feed it into a computer tabulating device at the precinct. The tabulating device reads the votes using "dark mark logic," whereby the computer selects the darkest mark within a given set as the correct choice or vote. Marksense technology has existed for decades and been used extensively in such areas as standardized testing and statewide lotteries."
Jan. 16, 2013 - Federal Election Commission

The Congressional Research Service's Nov. 4, 2003 report titled, "Election Reform and Electronic Voting Systems (DREs): Analysis of Security Issues," available at www.epic.org, included the following description of optical scan machines:

"Another major technological advance in voting — the first use of computers to count votes — came with the introduction of the punchcard system, first used in 1964. The optical-scan voting system, which also uses computers for vote-counting, was first used in the 1980s. In both kinds of voting system, document ballots are fed into an electronic reader and the tallies stored in computer memory and media. Tallying can be done at either the precinct or a central location. Computer-assisted counting of document ballots can be done very rapidly, thus speeding the reporting of election results. It is much more efficient for counting large numbers of ballots than manual tallying."
Nov. 4, 2003 - Congressional Research Service

Stephen Ansolabehere, PhD, Professor of Political Science at Harvard University, wrote in the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project's Mar. 20, 2001 article, 'Residual Votes Attributable to Technology: An Assessment of the Reliability of Existing Voter Equipment," available at www.caltech.edu:

"Optically scanned ballots, also known as 'marksense' or 'bubble' ballots, offer another method for automating the counting of paper ballots. The form of the optically scanned ballot is familiar to anyone who has taken a standardized test. The voter is given a paper ballot that lists the names of the candidates and the options for referenda, and next to each choice is a small circle or an arrow with a gap between the fletching and the point. The voter darkens in the bubble next to the preferred option for each office or referendum, or draws a straight line connecting the two parts of the arrow. The ballot is placed in a box, and, at the end of the day, counted using an optical scanner. Some versions of this technology allow the voter to scan the ballot at the polling place to make sure that he or she voted as intended."
Mar. 30, 2001 - Stephen D. Ansolabehere, PhD

According to Verified Voting, in the 2012 election, 1,704 jurisdictions provided ballot marking devices to help voters "who are unable to personally mark an optical scan ballot due to physical impairments or language barriers." Additionally, 1,157 jurisdictions provided telephone-based assistive ballot marking devices to aid voters. With this system, the voter listens to the ballot via headphones and uses a touchtone telephone-style keypad to mark votes. Ballots are printed so the voter may review his or her votes and each ballot includes barcodes that blind or otherwise impaired voters can scan to hear their votes read back to them.


V. Punch Card Systems
Punch card systems require the voter to insert a paper card into a clip-board sized device and to use a stylus to punch pre-scored holes through the card to indicate votes.The stylus punches out little rectangles called "chads." The ES&S Votamatic is the only punch card device currently being used in the United States.
punch cards
Brian L. Fife, PhD, Director of Graduate Studies and Political Science Professor at Indiana University--Purdue University Fort Wayne, and Geralyn M. Miller, PhD, Associate Professor of Societal, Legal, and Ethical Implications of Business Decisions at Indiana University--Purdue University Fort Wayne, in their Dec. 30, 2002 book, Political Culture and Voting Systems in the United States: An Examination of the 2000 Presidential Election," wrote:

"Punchcard systems utilize one or more cards and a small clipboard-sized device for recording votes. Voters punch holes in the cards with a supplied device. After voting, the citizen may place the ballot in a box, or the ballot may be fed into a computer tabulating device. Two common types of punchcards are the "Votamatic" and hte "Datavote" cards. With the Votamatic card, the locations at which holes may be punched to indicate votes are each assigned numbers. The number of holes is the only information available on the card. The lists of candidates and issue choices, as well as voter directions, are printed in a separate booklet."
Dec. 30, 2000 - Brian L. Fife and Geralyn M. Miller

The Congressional Research Service's Nov. 4, 2003 report titled, "Election Reform and Electronic Voting Systems (DREs): Analysis of Security Issues," available at www.epic.org, included the following description of punch card voting:

"Another major technological advance in voting — the first use of computers to count votes — came with the introduction of the punchcard system, first used in 1964. The optical-scan voting system, which also uses computers for vote-counting, was first used in the 1980s. In both kinds of voting system, document ballots are fed into an electronic reader and the tallies stored in computer memory and media. Tallying can be done at either the precinct or a central location. Computer-assisted counting of document ballots can be done very rapidly, thus speeding the reporting of election results. It is much more efficient for counting large numbers of ballots than manual tallying. It makes some kinds of tampering more difficult than with manual counting, but it does not eliminate them, and it creates possibilities for tampering with the counting software and hardware."
Nov. 4, 2003 - Congressional Research Service

Stephen D. Ansolabehere, PhD, Professor of Political Science at Harvard University, described punch card ballots in the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project's Mar. 20, 2001 article, 'Residual Votes Attributable to Technology: An Assessment of the Reliability of Existing Voter Equipment," available at www.caltech.edu:

"Punch card machines automated the counting process using the computer technology of the 1960s. Upon entering the polling place the voter is given a paper ballot in the form of a long piece of heavy stock paper. The paper has columns of small, perforated rectangles (or chads). There are two variants of the punch card - one, the Data Vote, lists the names of the candidates on the card; the other (VotoMatic) does not...The voter uses a metal punch to punch out the rectangle beside the candidate of choice...When finished, the voter removes the card and puts it in a ballot box. At the end of the day, the election workers put the cards into a sorter that counts the number of perforations next to each candidate."

Mar. 30, 2001 - Stephen D. Ansolabehere, PhD



VI. Mechanical Lever Machines
Mechanical lever machines, introduced in the 1890s and popular from the 1960s to the 1980s, were completely phased out by 2010 in the United States.
lever machine
The United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) described mechanical lever machines on its website (accessed Feb. 22, 2006):

"On mechanical lever voting machines, the name of each candidate or ballot issue choice is assigned a particular lever in a rectangular array of levers on the front of the machine. A set of printed strips visible to the voters identifies the lever assignment for each candidate and issue choice. The levers are horizontal in their unvoted positions. The voter enables the machine with a lever that also closes a privacy curtain. The voter pulls down selected levers to indicate choices. When the voter exits the booth by opening the privacy curtain with the handle, the voted levers are automatically returned to their original horizontal position."

Feb. 22, 2006 - US Election Assistance Committee (EAC)

Congressional Research Sevice's Nov. 4, 2003 Report for Congress, "Election Reform and Electronic Voting Systems (DREs): Analysis of Security Issues," included the following description of mechanical lever machines:

"With [mechanical lever machines], a voter enters the voting booth and sees a posted ballot with a small lever near the name of each candidate or other ballot choice. The voter chooses a candidate by moving the appropriate lever...After completing all choices, the voter pulls a large lever to cast the ballot, and the votes are recorded by advances in mechanical counters in the machine. The lever machine therefore eliminates the need to count ballots manually. Instead, pollworkers read the numbers recorded by the counters. Because there is no document ballot, recounts and audits are limited to review of totals recorded by each machine."

Nov. 4, 2003 - Congressional Research Service

Stephen D. Ansolabehere, PhD, Professor of Political Science at Harvard University, described mechanical lever machines in the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project's Mar. 20, 2001 article, 'Residual Votes Attributable to Technology: An Assessment of the Reliability of Existing Voter Equipment," available at www.caltech.edu:

"The lever machine consists of a steel booth that the voter steps into. A card in the booth lists the names of the candidates, parties, or referenda options, and below each option is a switch. Voters flick the switch of their preferred options for each office or referendum. When they wish to make no further changes, they pull a large lever, which registers their votes on a counter located on the back of the machine. At the end of the voting day, the election precinct workers record the tallies from each of the machines. Lever machines automate both the casting of votes and the counting of votes through mechanical devices."

Mar. 30, 2001 - Stephen D. Ansolabehere, PhD