Election Night Hand Counts: Realities and Risks

Date: November 2023
Author: Verified Voting
Issue: Voting Equipment, Post-Election Audit, Paper Records

Publication Summary

Misguided proposals to eliminate all vote counting machines and move to hand counting all ballots on election night have far reaching implications for our trust in our elections.

It’s been said that elections are a combination of people, processes, and technology. Human oversight of election processes is integral to ensuring that voting technology works correctly and that votes are counted as cast. “Hand to eye” examination of ballots in audits and recounts are quality control checks that carefully and transparently assess that voting technology got the election outcome right—or correct the outcome if it did not—and give voters justified confidence in election outcomes. But that best practice does not translate to humans hand counting millions of votes on election night. This paper examines the risks of full election night hand counts, explains when hand counts should be used, and emphasizes why common-sense best practices that employ voting machines and post-election audits make our election outcomes verifiable and resilient.

Claims that election night hand counts are the only way to confirm election outcomes are being used as a tool to spread disinformation about vote counting systems. If adopted, election night hand counts would lead to even more distrust in election outcomes when election results become delayed. Misguided proposals are multiplying in legislatures and throughout local jurisdictions nationwide to eliminate all vote counting machines and move to hand counting all paper ballots. In 2023, at least eight states introduced legislation banning the use of vote counting machines to count ballots. One proposal in Arizona would have effectively banned vote counting machines by requiring equipment to be configured in ways that do not currently exist. 

Eliminating vote counting machines for election night hand counts impacts everything from understaffed and underfunded election budgets, the speed of election result reporting, and the reliability of outcomes. While hand counts are necessary for checking election outcomes in audits and recounts, widespread expansion of hand counting would impair election administration and undermine public confidence in U.S. elections. 

Click here to read more about the risks of election night hand counts, when they should be used, and why efforts should instead focus on robust election audits.