The US returns to the polling stations with a challenge: updating its technology


The US uses more than 3,000 voting technology solutions. Photo: Emol.

Midterm elections in the US, scheduled for November 4th, will not only show which of the two traditional parties will gain control of Congress, but also whether the electoral authorities have been able to overcome the multiple problems that arose in polling centers during the general elections two years ago.

Since 2012, when the newly re-elected President Barack Obama asked for solutions to the long lines that hindered the voting exercise, much has changed. The presidential commission which Mr. Obama established held several meetings with different commissions and experts in the topic, and presented proposals to improve the American electoral system last January 1st. Moreover, counties took measures to facilitate voting for millions of Americans, such as the extension of early voting days, the simplification of voter registry processes, and the extension of open hours for polling centers.

Technology has also been in the eye of the hurricane throughout all this time. Accordingly, the country is expected to show progress in the automated voting systems used in some counties next Tuesday. The Verified Vote NGO does not seem very optimistic about this. According to its report, multiple variations of automated procedures will be used across the 50 states, as well as manual methods, but there is no evidence of improvement that might reinforce guarantees, such as the widespread use of equipment printing paper receipts as proof of voting.

One detail that makes electoral logistics complicated in this country is the fact that each state is in charge of managing its own electoral processes. Therefore, more than 3,000 different technological solutions will be used in this election. The use of mixed systems within a single county (manual and electronic; paper ballots and automated tallying, touchscreen machines with or without suffrage support) brings up the need for states—and even for the Federal Government—to strive to improve their infrastructure in order for e-voting to provide the same solvency it does in developing countries.

According to Verified Vote, the first scheme used in the country is combined, as 16 states will be using traditional paper ballots that must be marked by hand but will be tallied by optical scanners. The scanners operate by identifying the marks made by the voters on the ballots and recording votes accordingly. There are other 24 states where the tallying process is carried out manually.

The second e-voting method is called Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting, which is used in 60% of the states. It consists of touchscreen or keyboard machines on which voters type their selections. There are at least three variations on this system: machines that print vote receipts on paper (used by a bare 8% of the constituencies), machines that do not support receipt printing (24% of the territory), and devices that may support receipt printing, but the option is up to the local authorities.

The third e-voting possibility has been almost eradicated: the much-criticized punched card scheme. This method is still used by four counties in Idaho.

The study conducted by the NGO shows that the entire country has automated most of the steps in its elections, but the percentage of places where votes are still being manually tallied is still very high. Meanwhile, the number of constituencies where elections can be audited by the voters—thanks to the use of machines that print vote receipts on paper—is still very low. Thus, the US is still facing the challenge of a forced update of automated voting.


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