Voting machine

Last updated

Election technology

A voting machine is a machine used to register and tabulate votes. The first voting machines were mechanical but it is increasingly more common to use electronic voting machines. Traditionally, a voting machine has been defined by the mechanism the system uses to cast votes and further categorized by the location where the system tabulates the votes.


Voting machines have different levels of usability, security, efficiency and accuracy. Certain systems may be more or less accessible to all voters, or not accessible to those voters with certain types of disabilities. They can also have an effect on the public's ability to oversee elections.

Early history

The first major proposal for the use of voting machines came from the Chartists in 1838. [1] Among the radical reforms called for in The People's Charter were universal suffrage and voting by secret ballot. This required major changes in the conduct of elections, and as responsible reformers, the Chartists not only demanded reforms but described how to accomplish them, publishing Schedule A, a description of how to run a polling place, and Schedule B, a description of a voting machine to be used in such a polling place. [2] [3]

The Chartist voting machine, attributed to Benjamin Jolly of 19 York Street in Bath, allowed each voter to cast one vote in a single race. This matched the requirements of a British parliamentary election. Each voter was to cast his vote by dropping a brass ball into the appropriate hole in the top of the machine by the candidate's name. Each voter could only vote once because each voter was given just one brass ball. The ball advanced a clockwork counter for the corresponding candidate as it passed through the machine, and then fell out the front where it could be given to the next voter.

In 1875, Henry Spratt of Kent received a U.S. patent for a voting machine that presented the ballot as an array of push buttons, one per candidate. [4] Spratt's machine was designed for a typical British election with a single plurality race on the ballot. In 1881, Anthony Beranek of Chicago patented the first voting machine appropriate for use in a general election in the United States. [5] Beranek's machine presented an array of push buttons to the voter, with one row per office on the ballot, and one column per party. Interlocks behind each row prevented voting for more than one candidate per race, and an interlock with the door of the voting booth reset the machine for the next voter as each voter left the booth.

A Psephograph was patented by Italian inventor Boggiano in 1907. [6]

By July 1936, IBM had mechanized voting and ballot tabulation for single transferable vote elections. Using a series of dials, the voter could record up to twenty ranked preferences to a punched card, one preference at a time. Write-in votes were permitted. The machine prevented a voter from spoiling their ballot by skipping rankings and by giving the same ranking to more than one candidate. A standard punched-card counting machine would tabulate ballots at a rate of 400 per minute. [7]

Vote-recording technologies

Document-based ballot voting systems

A document ballot voting system records votes, counts votes, and produces a tabulation of the vote count from votes cast on paper cards or sheets. A document ballot voting system can allow for manual or electronic tabulation.

Manually marked and tabulated paper ballots

The first use of paper ballots to conduct an election appears to have been in Rome in 139 BCE, and the first use of paper ballots in the United States was in 1629 to select a pastor for the Salem Church. [8]

Punched card

The Votomatic vote recorder, a punched card voting machine originally developed in the mid-1960s. Votomatic.jpg
The Votomatic vote recorder, a punched card voting machine originally developed in the mid-1960s.

Punched card systems employ a card (or cards) and a small clipboard-sized device for recording votes. Voters punch holes in the cards with a ballot marking device. Typical ballot marking devices carry a ballot label that identifies the candidates or issues associated with each punching position on the card, although in some cases, the names and issues are printed directly on the card. 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.

The idea of voting by punching holes on paper or cards originated in the 1890s [9] and inventors continued to explore this in the years that followed. By the late 1890s John McTammany's voting machine was used widely in several states. In this machine, votes were recorded by punching holes in a roll of paper comparable to those used in player pianos, and then tabulated after the polls closed using a pneumatic mechanism.

Punched-card voting was proposed occasionally in the mid-20th century, [10] but the first major success for punched-card voting came in 1965, with Joseph P. Harris' development of the Votomatic punched-card system. [11] [12] [13] This was based on IBM's Port-A-Punch technology. Harris licensed the Votomatic to IBM. [14] William Rouverol built the prototype system.

The Votomatic system [15] was very successful. By the 1996 Presidential election, some variation of the punched card system was used by 37.3% of registered voters in the United States. [16]

Votomatic style systems and punched cards received considerable notoriety in 2000 when their uneven use in Florida was alleged to have affected the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

Optical scan (marksense)

An optical scan, or marksense, voting system allows a voter to record votes by making marks directly on the ballot, usually in voting response locations.

Using electronic input device

A paper-based system may allow for the voter's selections to be indicated by marks made on a paper ballot by an electronic input device.

Voter-verified paper audit trail

Some traditionally non-document ballot voting systems may print a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) to serve as a document (ballot) for each vote.

Electronic ballot marker

An electronic ballot marker (EBM) or ballot marking device is categorized as any such input device that does not independently record, store, or tabulate the voter selections.

Non-document-based ballot voting systems

Direct-recording voting system

Demo version of lever style voting machine on display at the National Museum of American History Voting machine.png
Demo version of lever style voting machine on display at the National Museum of American History

Commonly used in the United States until the 1990s (and commonly known as lever machines), direct recording voting systems are mechanical systems to tabulate votes. This was the first voting technology commercialized in the United States. In 1889, Jacob H. Myers of Rochester, New York, received a patent for a voting machine that was based on Beranek's 1881 machine. [17] This machine saw its first use in Lockport, New York, in 1892. [18] In 1894, Sylvanus Davis added a straight-party lever and significantly simplified the interlocking mechanism used to enforce the vote-for-one rule in each race. [19] By 1899, Alfred Gillespie introduced several refinements. It was Gillespie who replaced the heavy metal voting booth with a curtain that was linked to the cast-vote lever, and Gillespie introduced the lever by each candidate name that was turned to point to that name in order to cast a vote for that candidate. Inside the machine, Gillespie worked out how to make the machine programmable so that it could support races in which voters were allowed to vote for, for example, 3 out of 5 candidates. [20]

On December 14, 1900, the U.S. Standard Voting Machine Company was formed, with Alfred Gillespie as one of its directors, to combine the companies that held the Myers, Davis, and Gillespie patents. [21] By the 1920s, this company (under various names) had a monopoly on voting machines, until, in 1936, Samuel and Ransom Shoup obtained a patent for a competing voting machine. [22] By 1934, about a sixth of all presidential ballots were being cast on mechanical voting machines, essentially all made by the same manufacturer. [23]

Commonly, a voter enters the machine and pulls a lever to close the curtain, thus unlocking the voting levers. The voter then makes his or her selection from an array of small voting levers denoting the appropriate candidates or measures. The machine is configured to prevent overvotes by locking out other candidates when one candidate's lever is turned down. When the voter is finished, a lever is pulled which opens the curtain and increments the appropriate counters for each candidate and measure. At the close of the election, the results are hand copied by the precinct officer, although some machines could automatically print the totals. New York was the last state to stop using these machines, under court order, by the fall of 2009. [24] [25]

Direct-recording electronic voting system

The successor to direct recording voting machines, a direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting system records votes by means of an electronic display provided with mechanical or electro-optical components that can be activated by the voter; that processes voter selections by means of a computer program; and that records that processed voting data in memory components. It produces a tabulation of the voting data that is stored in a removable memory component and may also provide printed renditions of the data. The system may further provide a means for transmitting the processed vote data to a central location in individual or accumulated forms for consolidating and reporting results from precincts at a central location. DRE systems additionally can produce a paper ballot printout that can be verified by the voter before they cast their ballot.

Public network direct-recording electronic voting system

A public network DRE voting system is an election system that uses electronic ballots and transmits vote data from the polling place to another location over a public network. Vote data may be transmitted as individual ballots as they are cast, periodically as batches of ballots throughout the election day, or as one batch at the close of voting.

Vote-tabulation technologies

Most voting systems (whether document ballot or non-document ballot) can be tabulated either at the place of voting or in another location. In this case "precinct" is the place of voting.

Precinct-count voting system

A precinct-count voting system is a voting system that tabulates ballots at the polling place. Generally, systems that hand count the ballots will tabulate only after the close of polling. Other voting systems typically tabulate the ballots as they are cast. In all systems, the vote totals are made public only after the close of polling. For DREs and some paper-based systems these systems provide electronic storage of the vote count and may transmit results to a central location over public telecommunication networks. This system allows for voters to be notified of voting errors such as over voting and can prevent residual votes.

Central-count voting system

A medium-speed central-count ballot scanner, the DS450 made by Election Systems & Software can scan and sort about 4000 ballots per hour. ES&S DS 450.jpg
A medium-speed central-count ballot scanner, the DS450 made by Election Systems & Software can scan and sort about 4000 ballots per hour.

A central count voting system is a voting system that tabulates ballots from multiple precincts at a central location. Central count systems are also commonly used to process absentee ballots.

Central counting can be done by hand, and in some jurisdictions, central counting is done using the same type of voting machine deployed at polling places, but since the introduction of the Votomatic punched-card voting system and the Norden Electronic Vote Tallying System in the 1960s, high speed ballot tabulators have been in widespread use, particularly in large metropolitan jurisdictions. Today, commodity high-speed scanners sometimes serve this purpose, but special-purpose ballot scanners are also available that incorporate sorting mechanisms to separate tabulated ballots from those requiring human interpretation. [26]

Voted ballots are typically placed into secure ballot boxes at the polling place. Stored ballots and/or Precinct Counts are transported or transmitted to a central counting location. The system produces a printed report of the vote count, and may produce a report stored on electronic media suitable for broadcasting, or release on the Internet.

See also

Related Research Articles

Chad (paper) small pieces of paper

Chad refers to fragments sometimes created when holes are made in a paper, card or similar synthetic materials, such as computer punched tape or punched cards. "Chad" has been used both as a mass noun and as a countable noun.

A ballot is a device used to cast votes in an election, and may be a piece of paper or a small ball used in secret voting. It was originally a small ball used to record decisions made by voters.

Electronic voting is voting that uses electronic means to either aid or take care of casting and counting votes.

Help America Vote Act election law

The Help America Vote Act of 2002, or HAVA, is a United States federal law which passed in the House 357-48 and 92-2 in the Senate and was signed into law by President Bush on October 29, 2002. The bill was drafted in reaction to the controversy surrounding the 2000 U.S. presidential election, when almost two million ballots were disqualified because they registered multiple votes or none when run through vote-counting machines.

Black box voting signifies voting on voting machines which do not disclose how they operate such as with closed source or proprietary operations. If a voting machine does not provide a tangible record of individual votes cast then it can be described as black box voting.

A polling place is where voters cast their ballots in elections.

An absentee ballot is a vote cast by someone who is unable or unwilling to attend the official polling station to which the voter is normally allocated. Numerous methods have been devised to facilitate this. Increasing the ease of access to absentee ballots is seen by many as one way to improve voter turnout, though some countries require that a valid reason, such as infirmity or travel, be given before a voter can participate in an absentee ballot.

Voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) or verifiable paper record (VPR) is a method of providing feedback to voters using a ballotless voting system. A VVPAT is intended as an independent verification system for voting machines designed to allow voters to verify that their vote was cast correctly, to detect possible election fraud or malfunction, and to provide a means to audit the stored electronic results. It contains the name of the candidate and symbol of the party/individual candidate.

Election Systems & Software

Election Systems & Software (ES&S) is an Omaha, Nebraska-based company that manufactures and sells voting machine equipment and services. The company's offerings include vote tabulators, direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines, voter registration and election management systems, ballot-marking devices, electronic poll books, Ballot on Demand printing services, and absentee voting-by-mail services.

A direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machine records votes by means of a ballot display provided with mechanical or electro-optical components that can be activated by the voter ; that processes data by means of a computer program; and that records voting data and ballot images in memory components. After the election it produces a tabulation of the voting data stored in a removable memory component and as printed copy. The system may also provide a means for transmitting individual ballots or vote totals to a central location for consolidating and reporting results from precincts at the central location. The device started to be massively used in 1996, in Brazil, where 100% of the elections voting system is carried out using machines.

Elections in Kazakhstan

Elections in Kazakhstan are held on a national level to elect a President and the Parliament, which is divided into two bodies, the Majilis and the Senate. Local elections for maslihats are held every five years.

End-to-end auditable or end-to-end voter verifiable (E2E) systems are voting systems with stringent integrity properties and strong tamper resistance. E2E systems often employ cryptographic methods to craft receipts that allow voters to verify that their votes were counted as cast, without revealing which candidates were voted for. As such, these systems are sometimes referred to as receipt-based systems.

An optical scan voting system is an electronic voting system and uses an optical scanner to read marked paper ballots and tally the results.

An election recount is a repeat tabulation of votes cast in an election that is used to determine the correctness of an initial count. Recounts will often take place in the event that the initial vote tally during an election is extremely close. Election recounts will often result in changes in contest tallies. Errors can be found or introduced from human factors, such as transcription errors, or machine errors, such as misreads of paper ballots. Alternately, tallies may change because of a reinterpretation of voter intent.

Electoral reform in Florida refers to efforts to change the voting and election laws in the United States state of Florida.

The following is a list of examples of electronic voting from elections around the world. Examples include polling place voting electronic voting and Internet voting.

John McTammany Inventor of first automatic piano and voting machine

John McTammany (1845–1915) was a Scottish-born American inventor who is credited with a number of patents. He immigrated to the United States as a teenager and served in the Civil War.

A ballot marking device (BMD) or vote recorder is a type of voting machine used by voters to record votes on physical ballots. In general, ballot marking devices neither store nor tabulate ballots, but only allow the voter to record votes on ballots that are then stored and tabulated elsewhere.

Verified Voting Foundation U.S. advocacy organization that catalogs voting equipment used in each state

The Verified Voting Foundation is an non-governmental, nonpartisan organization founded in 2003 by David L. Dill, a computer scientist from Stanford University, designed to preserve the democratic process with modern day voting advancements. Dill’s educational nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization has grown quickly since its founding and seeks to represent concerned citizens who are hesitant about electronic paperless voting. The Verified Voting Foundation volunteers act as lobbyists, educators, and leaders who promote a secure voting environment by the means of paper voting with a tangible receipt for each vote. They do this by influencing election officials and civilians at every level of government to closely monitor elections in the United States. As well, the Verified Voting Foundation is in charge of a database that contains "voting system information" and "best practices"; this information about the electoral process and voting equipment is available to the public online. The role of the Verified Voting Foundation has expanded as various ballot mechanisms have emerged in the United States. The 2000 and 2016 Presidential elections have contributed to this foundation's role because citizens and officials were questioning voter security and ballot counts after both elections.


  1. Douglas W. Jones, Early Requirements for Mechanical Voting Systems, First International Workshop on Requirements Engineering for E-voting Systems, Aug. 31, 2009, Atlanta. (author's copy).
  2. The People's Charter with the Address to the Radical Reformers of Great Britain and Ireland and a Brief Sketch of its Origin Elt and Fox, London, 1848; obverse of title page.
  3. The People's Charter 1839 Edition, in the radicalism collection of the University of Aberdeen.
  4. H. W. Spratt, Improvement in Voting Apparatus, U.S. Patent 158,652, Jan 12. 1875.
  5. A. C. Beranek, Voting Apparatus, U.S. Patent 248,130, Oct. 11, 1881.
  6. The Graphic : an illustrated weekly newspaper. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. London : Graphic. 1869.CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. Hallett, George H. (July 1936). "Proportional representation". National Municipal Review. 25 (7): 432–434. doi:10.1002/ncr.4110250711. ISSN   0190-3799.
  8. Jones, Douglas W.. A Brief Illustrated History of Voting. THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA Department of Computer Science .
  9. Kennedy Dougan, Ballot-Holder, U.S. Patent 440,545, Nov. 11, 1890.
  10. Fred M. Carroll (IBM), Voting Machine, U.S. Patent 2,195,848, Apr. 2, 1940.
  11. Joseph P. Harris, ``Data Registering Device, U.S. Patent 3,201,038, Aug. 17, 1965.
  12. Joseph P. Harris, Data Registering Device, U.S. Patent 3,240,409, Mar. 15, 1966.
  13. Harris, Joseph P. (1980) Professor and Practitioner: Government, Election Reform, and the Votomatic, Bancroft Library
  14. IBM Archive: Votomatic
  15. "Votamatic". Verified Voting Foundation. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  16. "Punchcards, a definition Archived 2006-09-27 at the Wayback Machine ". Federal Election Commission
  17. Jacob H. Myers, Voting Machine, U.S. Patent 415,549, Nov. 19, 1889.
  18. Republicans Carry Lockport; The New Voting Machine Submitted to a Practical Test, in the New York Times, Wed. Apr. 13, 1892; page 1.
  19. S. E. Davis, Voting Machine, U.S. Patent 526,666, Sept. 25, 1894.
  20. A. J. Gillespie, Voting-Machine, U.S. Patent 628,905, July 11, 1899.
  21. The Manual of Statistics: Stock Exchange Hand-book, 1903, The Manual of Statistics Company, New York, 1903; page 773.
  22. Samuel R. Shoup and Ransom F. Shoup, Voting Machine, U.S. Patent 2,054,102, Sept. 15, 1936.
  23. Joseph Harris, Voting Machines, Chapter VII of Election Administration in the United States, Brookings, 1934; pages 249 and 279–280.
  24. "Lever voting machines get a reprieve in NY", Press & Sun-Bulletin ( Binghamton, New York ), August 10, 2007
  25. "States Prepare for Tests of Changes to Voting System", New York Times Page accessed on 20 October 2008
  26. Douglas W. Jones and Barbara Simons, Broken Ballots, CSLI Publications, 2012; see Section 4.1 Central-Count Machines, pages 64-65, and Figure 21, page 73.

Election administration