In a digital age, you might be surprised to learn that many states once using electronic voting are actually switching back to paper — some after disastrous elections that resulted from the lack of a paper trail. Florida, New Mexico, Michigan and Washington state are a few that in recent years made the move to require use of paper ballots instead of electronic voting systems, according to Verified Voting President Pamela Smith. But they’re not shying away from technology altogether, these and some other states using paper ballots employ specialized scanners to count the ballots.
… Verified Voting, a part advocacy/part information-bearing think tank, shows that 25 percent of states use DREs, while 67 percent use voter-marked paper ballots, with OpScan accounting for the majority of vote counting in 13 states. Some states use a combination of these technologies, especially to comply with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, which includes provisions for accessibility for disabled users.
… Smith explained that some states, when requirements were set for accessible voting, took the opportunity to switch all their systems to DREs. But over time, the DREs revealed how they could fail. Whether it be a system booting up slowly and leading to long lines or complete system failure without a paper print out that resulted in thousands of votes being lost — sometimes in highly contestable elections — it has become apparent that DREs have reliability issues. Some may counter that the same issues can occur with voter-marked paper ballots counted by OpScan, but as Smith points out, voting can still continue without the scanner. She said depending on state laws, some jurisdictions with DREs are required to have emergency paper ballots while others just recommend they be on hand.
… Although many jurisdictions are making the shift away from use of paper, Smith and Verified Voting see the value in having a paper trail when it comes to casting votes. The 2002 HAVA law has a provision that requires “production of a permanent paper record suitable to be used in a manual recount.” But according to Verified Voting, a significant percentage of jurisdictions with DREs do not have a voter-verified paper record.
Smith explains how this can happen under the law. She said some have interpreted the law to mean that the system produces an end of the day tally, which can sometimes include “ballot images,” although she said these aren’t snapshots of the actual screen. Doing this still complies with the HAVA requirement.
“In our view, that paper record is not really suitable for use in a manual recount, if it doesn’t provide any evidence as to the voter’s intent,” Smith said. “We feel if the voter had no opportunity to check that the paper was printed correctly, that it contains their actual choices and not just the machine’s interpretation (possibly incorrect) of their choices, then that gives that end-of-day printout no real value as ‘evidence’ in the election.” So, while there was a “flurry trending over [the use of] DREs,” according to Smith, “most are now looking toward auditable and recountable [systems.]” To Smith, this is the voter-marked paper ballots with OpScan method. “It provides features you want: recount ability, availability, easy to use and easy to deploy,” she said.