Advantages of Paper Ballot/ Precinct Based Optical Scan Voting Systems Over Electronic Touch Screen Voting Machines
Here we discuss advantages of paper ballot and precinct based optical scan systems over electronic touch screen voting machines (DREs), including those with voter verified paper ballots (VVPB).
The following topics are covered:
Advantages of Paper Ballot/Optical Scan Systems
Disadvantages of DRE systems
With an optical scan system, no votes are stored electronically in the ballot marking device. For each voter, there is one and only one ballot of record: the paper ballot that the voter completes and verifies (either with or without the assistance from the ballot marking device). Since the optical scan paper ballot is its own "voter-verified paper ballot", there is no need for additional printers and the added cost and complexity they impose. In DRE voting machine + VVPB printer solution, there are two ballots - the electronic record, and the paper ballot printed by the DRE.
In a paper ballot/optical scan system, ballots for all types of voters - absentee and non-absentee voters, abled and disabled, can be handled and counted using the same type of equipment. With DRE systems, absentee and provisional voters must use a different type of ballot from everyone else.
Optical Scan Ballots
Are Easily Understood By Voters
Contrast this with touchscreen computer interfaces which for many individuals, especially the elderly, can be difficult to read, comprehend, and use.
Using and hand marking a paper ballot is an easy and familiar method for all voters who are physically able to mark a paper ballot. For those who cannot, ballot marking devices, such as the Automark (http://www.essvote.com/HTML/products/automark.html) can provide full accessibility features (audio interface, sip/puff input, etc.) to the paper ballot.
Unlike many DRE voting machines whose "SmartCards" might be compromised to enable multiple votes, paper ballots only allow each voter to vote once, because that voter is given only a single optical scan paper ballot when they sign in. Existing optical scan paper ballots have many security, anti-counterfeiting, and audit features, such as tear-off ballot stubs with serial numbers, watermarks, etc.. Accordingly, at the end of the day, the total number of optical scan paper ballots that have been cast, spoiled, or which remain unused can be tracked and counted and reconciled against the sign-in logs.
Since the ballots are scanned at the polling place using the precinct based optical scanners, incorrectly completed ballots (e.g., over-voted ballots, smudged ballots, etc.) will be rejected by the scanner. The voter can then exchange the spoiled ballot for a new blank ballot so that the voter can correct his or her mistake. Also, since the ballots are counted in the polling place, there is less opportunity for ballots or ballot boxes to be lost in transit, as sometimes occurs in central-count tabulation systems.
Optical Scan Systems
Have Lower Rates Of Invalid Votes
Elections officials compare the performance of alternative voting systems by comparing the percentage of residual votes for each system. The most extensive study was The MIT/Caltech Voting Study, which examined residual vote rates among all of the ballot types used in the years 1988 through 2000. The Caltech report shows the optical scan voting systems consistently delivered the lowest rates of invalid votes of any of the voting technologies in use, including DRE voting machines.
A more recent (2004) study conducted in Florida compared the number of under-votes reported by DRE and optical scan systems in elections where there was only a single race or question on the ballot. It is assumed that in such single-contest elections, voters are unlikely to make a trip to the polling place to cast a blank ballot, so that under-votes that occur in such elections reflect a failure of the voting technology in use to record those votes. This study found that in such single-contest elections, DRE voting systems registered roughly 8 times as many under-votes as were registered by optical scan systems. While the optical scan systems incurred an over-vote rate of 0.01%, those presumably occurred on central-count optical scan systems. Both DREs and precinct-based optical scan systems prevent over-votes.
For details, see: “Analysis reveals flaws in voting by touch-screen” by
Jeremy Milarsky and Buddy Nevins, in the July 11, 2004 issue of the
Sun-Sentinel. An archived version of this article is available at: http://www.verifiedvoting.org/article.asp?id=2473
Optical Scan Ballots
Are Inherently Voter Verified
But a voter verified paper ballot that is produced by a printer attached to a DRE may or may not be verified by the voter, because there is no requirement that the voter actually inspect such a VVPB.
Indeed, many voters may never verify their VVPB for basic usability reasons. The VVPB is in a different format than the ballot, in a different place, is verified at a different time, and has a different graphical layout. These and other ergonomic factors will prevent many voters from actually verifying their machine printed ballot.
People are extremely good at remembering hundreds of precise images and comparing them against the same image. But the format of the paper receipt will be different than that of the voting machine and because of these differences it is difficult for people to compare them after the fact. Most people have had the experience of taking two columns of numbers and finding it difficult to verify that they have not missed a number. Comparing dozens of selections on a voter-verified paper receipt will take such special care. Complications of comparing a separate paper trail in a different ballot format may add extra difficulty for people with learning and reading disabilities.
During the first use of VVPB in an election, in November 2003 in Wilton, CT, virtually all voters had to be prompted to find and verify their receipt. This turned into extra effort for poll workers and extra time for voting.
Paper ballots on the other hand, are the actual ballot, so no separate verification step on a differently formatted ballot is necessary.
Optical Scanners Provide
Over-Vote And Under-Vote Protection
Optical Scan Ballots Are
Easy To Recount By Hand
Optical Scan Ballots
Allow Voters To Verify Correct Ballot Type
A recurrent and serious problem with DREs is that voters sometimes receive the wrong ballot type (or an incomplete ballot) but can’t find out that this has happened until after they start voting. Such incidents have been documented in several states where DREs are used, including California, Maryland, Georgia, and most recently in Hawaii. In some of these cases, voters have been partially disenfranchised, as they have been denied the opportunity to vote on races for which they were entitled to vote.
With a DRE-based system, when a voter signs into the poll book and is handed an “electronic ballot” by the poll worker, they are given either a “smart card” (on which the ballot is electronically encoded) or a 4-digit code number (e.g., Hart InterCivic eSlate system). In either case, what the voter receives from the poll worker is opaque and inscrutable, because to the eye, all smart cards look identical. The voter has no way to verify, prior to entering the voting booth and starting to vote, that he or she has received the correct type of ballot.
It is only after the voter has started voting (and often not until they finish voting) that a voter may realize that the ballot he or she received was the incorrect type or that it is missing one or more races or questions. In many cases, this realization comes too late, as some voters have inadvertently cast their DRE ballots while searching for the missing races or questions. And even when voters detect this mistake in mid-ballot, they typically have to compromise the secrecy of their electronic vote when showing poll workers that their partially-voted electronic ballot is of the wrong type.
Contrast this with an optical scan ballot system, where voters can inspect the complete ballot at the time they receive it from the poll worker and can exchange any incorrect ballots for the correct ballot type before they begin to vote. Such exchanges can be done without compromising ballot secrecy.
The problem of poll workers mistakenly giving voters an incorrect ballot type is clearly a human problem that can occur regardless of whatever voting technology is used; it can partially be addressed by better training of poll workers. However, it is a problem that will never be completely eliminated, and one which any voting system must adequately address. To date, DREs have not adequately addressed this problem, nor will it be addressed by adding VVPB printers to DREs.
Several recent magazine and newspapers stories show that this is a recurring problem that is not isolated to any one state or type of voting machine.
From The Vexations of Voting Machines by Viveca Novak in the May 3, 2004 edition of TIME Magazine:
From New Voting Glitch Had Old Cause, in the March 6, 2004 edition of the Los Angeles Times:
From 7,000 Orange County Voters Were Given Bad Ballots, in the March 9, 2004 edition of the Los Angeles Times:
From Primary Election Runs Into Problems, Some Errors Caused by Electronic System September 24, 2004, KITV Channel 4 News, Honolulu, Hawaii:
Paper Ballot Systems
Easily Accommodate Additional Voters at Low Cost
When voter turnout requires it, it should be easy to add more voting booths. But with DREs, there is no quick or inexpensive way to acquire and deploy additional machines on short notice.
With paper ballot/optical scan systems, only one scanner and one ballot marking device is needed per polling place. If turnout is higher than expected, additional voting booths and marking pens are the only equipment needed to accommodate more voters. The privacy booths are simple, cheap, readily available, and easy to deploy. In a pinch, folding cardboard boxes set on tables could be used, since the booth must only provide privacy and a flat surface for marking the ballot.
Paper ballots and precinct based optical scanners allow local voting precincts to respond more rapidly to unusually high turn outs and avoid excessively long lines of voters.
With DRE systems, it is difficult and extremely expensive to add additional machines. When high voter turnout requires more booths they are difficult to obtain, initialize, and deploy on short notice. In New York State, it may cost $8,000 for each additional "booth".
Voters Can Continue
to Vote in the Event of Equipment Failure
Paper ballot systems allow voters to continue to mark their ballots even if the optical scanners won’t work due to system or power failures.
Of course, if power fails, voters won't be able to check their ballots
for errors on the scanner, but most will still be able to mark their
ballots and turn them in for later scanning. Marking pens and paper
ballots don't require electricity.
Security, Fraud, And Mechanical Problems With VVPB DREs
The Caltech paper reports:
Voters Complain DREs Provide
In many cases, voters voting on adjacent DREs or other voters waiting in line could view the selections made on a given voter’s DRE touch screen display. In other cases, when voters encounter a problem in mid-ballot and invoke the assistance of a poll worker, they often have to give up the secrecy of their ballot in order to page back and forth through their electronic ballot to demonstrate the problem to the poll worker.
Logic And Accuracy Tests
On DREs Are Cumbersome Or Opaque
The second method bypasses the touch screen completely and uses a “test cartridge” that is plugged into the voting machine to simulate a human casting votes via the touch screen. While this automated test method is more efficient, it is also completely opaque to anyone trying to witness the test; there is no way for such witnesses to view or verify what the test cartridge is actually doing. Instead, they have to “take it on faith” that the test cartridge is doing what the voting machine vendors and elections officials claim that it is doing. The transparency of the voting system is thus compromised in the interest of efficiency, thus lowering public confidence in the system.
Optical scan voting systems provide a more transparent and publicly-verifiable means for conducting pre- and post-election logic and accuracy tests. A test deck of optical scan ballots can be marked by election observers and then publicly counted by hand, multiple times and by multiple parties until all agree on the correct count. That test deck can then be run through the optical scanner, and its vote count is then compared to the publicly-verified manual count of that same test deck.
The test deck can even be run through the scanner multiple times to
more accurately simulate the actual number of voters whose votes would
be counted on that scanner in an actual election. For example, if the
test deck is run through the optical ballot scanner 10 times, it should
produce a result that is ten times the public-verified manual count
for that test deck.
VVPB Printers Increase
The Complexity And Cost Of DREs
Some vendors have estimated the costs of such printers at $1,000 each. The VVPB printers recently supplied by Sequoia Voting Systems to the State of Nevada for use in their primary election in September cost $800 each and did not provide audio feedback or a VVPB that could be optically scanned. While some vendors (e.g., Sequoia and Diebold) have contracted to give some jurisdictions VVPB printers for free (e.g., Santa Clara and San Diego counties), they are unlikely to provide such contracts to all jurisdictions. However, other vendors (e.g., Avante and AccuPoll) include VVPB printers as a standard part of their DRE voting systems.
In New York State, the full face ballot and the large touchscreen display required to display it, pushes the cost of VVPB DRES to over $7500 per unit.
In Recounts, DREs Could
Result in a Legal Catch-22
With DREs, the touch screen and other hardware components record votes. Of course, the same hardware is used in every election. But the DRE’s electronic memory, which stores vote totals, must be completely erased between elections. If it were not, residual totals from earlier elections remaining in memory could confuse or invalidate the results of the current election.
Combining vote recording and counting functions in a single machine has put some election districts which use DREs into a serious legal predicament. As of this writing, the November 2004 recount in New Mexico is still being litigated in the courts. Law requires that the contents of the electronic ballot memories for the DREs be preserved until the recount litigation is over. But while the recount may continue for many weeks, some New Mexico jurisdictions need to prepare their DREs for upcoming local elections in February.
Before the February elections can proceed, the electronic ballot memories of the DREs must be wiped clean. But erasing the DRE memory would violate the requirement to preserve the data for any pending recount of the November 2004 results.This presents a legal Catch-22 situation.
With paper ballot/optical scan systems, the paper ballots record the votes and the optical scanners count the votes. New elections always uses fresh, blank paper ballots, so ballots from previous elections may be stored for as long as legally required.
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