Voting Equipment

How you cast your votes and the equipment you use.

About Voting Equipment

How we vote in the United States is surprisingly complex.

Election security experts agree that the most resilient voting systems use paper ballots (marked by hand or with an assistive device for those who need to use them) that are verified by the voter before casting. Any system that does not include a paper record or a step for voter verification should not be used. Some states and local jurisdictions are still using unreliable and insecure electronic voting systems, while others primarily use hand-marked paper ballots. Visit the Verifier to see the voting equipment being used in your jurisdiction, and learn more about the different types of voting systems here.

Click here for the latest news from Verified Voting about Voting Equipment.

Types of Voting Equipment

Optical Scan Paper Ballot Systems

Optical Scan refers to a voting system that tabulates votes marked in contest option positions on the surface of a paper ballot.
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Optical Scan Paper Ballot Systems include both marksense and digital image scanners in which voters mark paper ballots that are subsequently tabulated by scanning devices. On most optical scan ballots voters indicate their selections by filling in an oval, completing an arrow or filling in a box. Ballots may be either scanned on hand-fed optical scan tabulators in the polling place or vote center (Precinct Count) or collected in a ballot box to be scanned at a central location (Central Count.) High capacity batch-fed optical scan tabulators are used in some jurisdictions to handle larger volumes of central count ballots. Optical scan voting systems can scan and tabulate ballots marked by hand or those marked by a ballot marking device. Some ballot marking devices encode voter selections are encode in 1D or 2D barcodes

Direct Recording Electronic (DRE)

A direct recording electronic voting system is a vote-capture device that allows the electronic presentation of a ballot, electronic selection of valid contest options, and the electronic storage of contest selections as individual records.

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Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems use one of three user interfaces (pushbutton, touchscreen or dial) to allow voters to record their selections directly into computer memory. The voter’s choices are stored in DREs via a memory cartridge, diskette or smart card and added to the choices of all other voters. An alphabetic keyboard is typically provided with the entry device to allow for the possibility of write-in votes, though with older models this is still done manually. Some DREs can be equipped with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) printers that allow the voter to confirm their selections on an independent paper record before recording their votes into computer memory. This paper record is preserved and, depending on State election codes, made available in the event of an audit or recount.

Ballot Marking Devices & Systems

A ballot marking device allows the electronic presentation of a ballot, electronic selection of valid contest options and produces a human-readable paper ballot, but does not make any other lasting record of the voter’s selections.

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Ballot Marking Devices and Systems were developed in response to the federal requirement that, beginning in 2006, all polling places must provide a means for voters with disabilities to vote “privately and independently.” When this requirement was passed as part of the Help America Vote Act in 2002, direct recording electronic voting systems were the only voting machines available for this purpose. With the development of the AutoMARK, which was purchased and subsequently manufactured and marketed by ES&S. Hart Intercivic, Dominion, Unisyn, IVS, and Clear Ballot have since developed ballot marking devices for use with their paper ballot systems. In addition, New Hampshire and Oregon have developed unique ballot marking systems.

While Ballot Marking Device (BMD) has become the generally accepted term for equipment that provides an interface to assist voters with disabilities in marking a paper ballot, the term “electronic ballot marker” has also been proposed to distinguish this equipment from earlier devices like those used to assist voters in punching chad from punch card ballots as well as non-computerized devices like the Vote-PAD.

Most ballot marking devices provide a touchscreen interface together with audio and other accessibility features similar to those provided with DREs, but rather than recording the vote directly into computer memory, the voter’s selections are indicated through a marking a paper ballot, which is then scanned or counted manually. Beginning with the introduction of the ES&S ExpressVote in 2016, manufacturers have begun to market BMDs expressly for use by all polling place voters, rather than primarily as an assistive device. The Dominion ImageCast X, the Hart InterCivic Touch Writer Duo, and the Unisyn Freedom Vote Tablet have been fielded in this “BMD for all voters” model, though they are all also used by some jurisdictions primarily as assistive devices.

Hybrid Voting Systems

Hybrid voting systems combine elements of optical scanners, DREs or ballot marking devices.
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The first hybrids were developed by Dominion Voting Systems, first with the addition of an assistive technology interface (ATI) to the ImageCast Precinct optical scanner and later with the ImageCast Evolution. Most often the assistive interface of the ImageCast Precinct includes a printer that prints a ballot based on the voter’s selection using the ATI, which is then scanned by the ImageCast Precinct. With the Evolution the assistive features, printer and scanner are integrated into a single unit, though the configuration is virtually identical with the BMD and scanner model. We have designated this equipment as “Hybrid Optical Scan/BMD.”

The ImageCast Precinct ATI can also be configured to enter the votes from “assistive ballots” directly into the tabulation without the creation of an independent paper ballot, thus functioning as a direct recording electronic device. The Hart InterCivic eScan A/T, used statewide in Oklahoma works similarly. We have designated this equipment as “Hybrid Optical Scan/DRE.”

The ES&S ExpressVote XL and the ExpressVote HW 2.1 function as BMDs but contain an internal tabulating functionality. With both of these machines, the voter’s selections, made using a touchscreen interface, are printed on a voter selection card, which is scanned and tabulated by the same machine. While the ExpressVote XL always functions as both a BMD and as a tabulator, the ExpressVote can be configured to function exclusively as a BMD or as a BMD and tabulator. We have designated the ExpressVote XL and the ExpressVote, when used as a BMD and tabulator as “Hybrid BMD/Optical Scan.”

Punch Card Voting Systems

Punch card voting systems allow voters to record selections by causing holes to be made in predefined positions in a machine-readable paper card.
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Punch Card Voting Systems employ a card (or cards) and a small clipboard-sized device for recording votes. Voters punch holes in the cards (with a supplied punch device) opposite their candidate or ballot issue choice. After voting, the voter may place the ballot in a ballot box, or the ballot may be fed into a computer vote-tabulating device at the precinct. No U.S. jurisdictions have used punch card voting systems in federal elections since 2014.

Mechanical Lever Voting Systems

A mechanical lever voting machine is a device that registers votes on counters through a system of rods and gears.
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First introduced in the 1890s, mechanical lever machines were used in many States during the 20th Century. As recently as 1996, mechanical lever machines were used by 20.7% of registered voters in the United States. Since 2010, no mechanical lever voting machines are used in U.S. elections.

Hand Counted Paper Ballots

A significant number of jurisdictions manually count paper ballots cast in polling places and even more count absentee and/or provisional ballots by hand. While not a type of “voting equipment,” beyond the pen or pencil used by the voter to mark the ballot, many of the issues of ballot design and voter intent that affect all voting systems are relevant to hand counted paper ballots as well.

Electronic Poll Books

An electronic poll book (also called “e-poll book) is a computer-based system that allows poll workers to look up voters and either check them in to vote or identify the person as not in the list of voters permitted to vote at the polling location.

Voting Methods

Not all votes are cast in traditional polling places on Election Day – an increasing number of voters vote absentee by mail or at in-person early voting facilities. All jurisdictions now provide accessible equipment for voters with disabilities. Most jurisdictions use different voting systems for these different voting stages.

In U.S. elections, the majority of votes are cast inside polling places. Voters make their selections in one of two ways: by marking a paper ballot, either manually or through the use of an assistive ballot marking device (BMD), or on direct recording electronic (DRE) systems, which record votes directly into computer memory. Most paper ballots are counted on optical scanners, although a significant number of jurisdictions count paper ballots by hand.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) required that every polling place provide voting equipment with assistive features for voters with disabilities. Jurisdictions have adopted different approaches to meeting this requirement. Some have opted for the exclusive use of direct recording electronic (DRE) systems for all polling place voters. Others have chosen to have “Mixed” systems, with both an optical scan paper ballot system and a DRE system available in each polling place. Some such jurisdictions limit the use of DREs primarily to voters with disabilities while others allow all voters to choose between the two systems available. A third approach to meeting the accessibility requirements of HAVA through the use of Ballot Marking Devices or Systems. These systems allow voters with disabilities to mark a paper ballot that is then counted along with the other paper ballots cast in the polling place.

In recent years many, but not all, States provide for in-person Early Voting. For a period a days or weeks prior to the official Election Day (the period varies from State to State) voters have the option of visiting a central location (typically the county election officials office or, in larger jurisdictions, satellite vote centers) to cast their vote. Most jurisdictions use the same voting equipment for the early voting period that are used in polling places on election day but not all. Some states offer “In Person Absentee Voting” during a certain period of time before an election during which a voter may apply in person for an absentee ballot and cast that ballot in one trip to an election official’s office.

Absentee Voting is available in every State. In some States there are restrictions on who can vote by mail and three States (Colorado, Oregon and Washington) conduct elections using only mail ballots. Most jurisdictions tabulate absentee ballots with optical scanners – either high volume “Central Count” systems or smaller “Precinct Count” scanners. A small but significant number of jurisdictions count absentee ballots manually. Some jurisdictions transfer the votes cast by voters on absentee paper ballots onto DRE systems rather than tabulating the ballot by scanning or manual counting.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 established that a voter could cast a provisional ballot if he or she believes that they are entitled to vote though their name does not appear in the pollbook. A provisional ballot is cast when: the voter refuses to show a photo ID if required, the voter’s name does not appear on the polbook for the given precinct, the voter’s registration contains inaccurate or out-dated information such as the wrong address or a misspelled name, or a ballot has already been recorded in the voter’s name. Whether a provisional ballot is counted or not is contingent upon the verification of that voter’s eligibility. Many voters do not realize that the provisional ballot is not counted until 7–10 days after election so their vote does not affect the initial announced results. Once the provisional ballot is determined to be valid it is counted with a scanner or manually.

Voting Equipment Database

Some types of voting equipment are more secure than others, and it matters what type of voting equipment you use and how you cast your vote. Verified Voting’s in-house database of the types of voting equipment we use to cast – and count – our votes is sorted by voting equipment type and voting equipment vendor.

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The Verifier

The conduct of elections has changed in many ways over the past 200 years. The Verifier is the only comprehensive data set of voting equipment down to the precinct level of the United States, going back to 2006.

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The History of Voting Machines

The conduct of elections has changed in many ways over the past 200 years. Read an excerpt of Douglas Jones’ Brief Illustrated History of Voting to learn more about how votes were historically cast.

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Resolution on Electronic Voting

Computerized voting equipment is inherently subject to programming error, equipment malfunction, and malicious tampering.

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