An e-voting map of the US

The multiplicity of electronic voting models employed in the United States makes it hard to track the technologies made available to over 180 million voters during each election.

It is indeed a gargantuan task, yet the Verified Voting Foundation has closely followed the process of automating American voting for years. Facing the upcoming November 8th elections, the NGO has released an electronic voting map of the nation.

This map shows the country’s diversity in electoral technology; which stems from the fact that each county in the nation has the legal autonomy to decide what kind of automation it employs.

When mapping the use of automated voting models, Verified Voting reveals that one of the most common technologies (used in jurisdictions in all 50 states) pertains to traditional paper ballots that are marked by hand and read by a scanner.  This vote counting device identifies the marks made by the voters on each ballot and tallies the choices made. Some counties in 23 states still have a manual vote count, and in three of these the whole voting process is done via mail.

In addition to automated counting, the Foundation’s report shows another mechanism with some degree of penetration: Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) machines, which are employed in 31 of the 50 states of the Union.

DRE machines have a touch screen or an interface (with buttons or wheels) which voters use to make their selections.  There are at least 3 variants in the United States: devices that print a voter-verified paper trail, whose use is authorized but which are only employed in some jurisdictions in 8 states; machines that do not produce a voucher, present in counties in 12 different states;  and a third type of DRE devices that can either print paper trails or not, are present in circuits in 22 states but whose application is determined by the authorities.

The picture is completed by jurisdictions in 40 states that have machines to help voters with physical disabilities (mobility issues, absence of limbs) or sensory ones (visual and hearing impairments), and by two counties in Idaho that still employ punch card readers; these have been replaced en masse starting in 2000 after severe issues with the vote count in Florida.

The work from this NGO shows that the whole nation has automated several stages of the voting, but in spite of the great variety of machines to enable the process, there are still counties where votes are still counted manually, and the jurisdictions that can audit the election (by using devices that print paper trails) are still but a scant few.

In the light of these results, Verified Voting deems the country can continue moving forward, as technology still has much to offer toward building a new map where all counties in the United States have the best tools to optimize voting.

E-voting and the road to the White House

Elections in the US capture the world’s attention and analysis.  Voter participation in the world’s greatest superpower has an influence watched from many angles, including election logistics, since every American election is a showcase of technologies that exhibits the variety of e-voting models available in the market.

The world will be able to see the automated voting methods Americans employ during the November 8th presidential election, the 58th in the country’s history. The Verified Voting Foundation  has listed the four technologies the country has been using recently, expected to make another appearance in this election.

According to their study, the models go from touch screen machines, to devices that issue paper trails, to scanners limited to automated tallying only.

The multiplicity of these technologies is a result of each county in the US having autonomy to choose and apply the model best suited to its needs. It is expected that over 3 thousand technology solutions will be put to use in November, based on the following models:

1.-Optical scan voting systems. This mechanism is used in some places in the US for automating the vote count. A scanner reads and recognizes the ballot, which is fed to the machine by hand, records the votes cast and processes them automatically.  Most voters mark their choices by filling ovals or marking arrows on the ballot.  The device stores the ballot counts in its memory.

2.- Direct-Recording Electronic voting machines (DRE). This kind of technology is the most used worldwide (countries such as Belgium, Brazil, India and Venezuela employ it), and its application has increased in the US. Votes are marked directly on the machine through a touchscreen or a tactile pad. According to the summary from Verified Voting, the first generation of DRE’s used a button interface for the selection, while latter models employ touchscreens.  There are variations of this model that can print a voting-verified paper trail.  Besides precinct counts, all the machines also transmit their own individual votes bundled together when the polls close.

3) Devices with a marking system. Machines of this kind have an interface that makes voting easier for those with disabilities.  They offer autonomy to voters with physical handicaps (mobility-related problems or absence of limbs) and those with sensory limitations (visual and hearing impairments).  For instance, for visual impairments, the device may have Braille markings, or headphones so the voter can hear the contents of the ballot.  There are also sip/puff devices that let the user navigate the ballot, intended for users with impaired mobility so they can vote unassisted.

4) Punched cards. According to Verified Voting, very few counties still use the ancient method of punched cards, having voters punch holes in the ballots with a mechanical device.  The ballots are then inserted in the ballot box to be either counted manually or with a tallying machine.

After reviewing the usual voting technologies in the US, the 185 million voters in the country will still employ the most common voting models in the world, but it is clear that electronic voting will prevail.

Headlong schedule puts remote voting in Catalonia at risk

Since the proposal of automating the voting process for Catalans residing abroad was presented last April, the project has been moving swiftly, to the point that it is taken for granted that automation will take place in next year’s autonomous elections.

The Governor’s office councilwoman Meritxell Borràs, who has been leading the initiative, states it was proved during the September 2015 that traditional postal voting or having to vote at diplomatic seats in other countries “does not seriously guarantee the right [to vote]”, since only 14,781 out of the 196,065 Catalans residing abroad voted.

The urgency to revert this minimal turnout is the driving force that keeps this project moving full steam ahead. However, the haste with which it is advancing could jeopardize its goal, because the adoption of new technology requires that no stages should be overlooked.

So far, the government of Catalonia passed the draft bill that establishes the implementation of an Internet voting model for Catalans enrolled in the CERA (Electoral Census of Spaniards Residing Abroad).

The legal initiative also contemplates an action plan that appears to be thorough for every single stage, but which is also risky since it sets a 10-month deadline for its fulfilment after the law passes:  “Hiring Internet voting services, implementing the technology, executing advertisement campaigns, pilot tests and effectively using the system within an electoral process”.

The plan laid out by the Catalans could mean the adoption of electoral technology by this important Spanish autonomous community, given that the vital phases for its safe and transparent adoption have already been laid out.

However, the success of this endeavour once the law passes will depend on whether the deadlines that have been set allow for the full completion of every stage. Electronic voting is designed to safeguard the will of every voter, but in order to do so it needs to be adopted flawlessly.

This draft bill states that Catalan voters can choose between postal and Internet voting; the latter would require them to enrol on a website, and confirm their identities in order to get credentials to vote.  It is expected that voting will take place from a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Borràs stated that “the experiences in other countries confirm [Catalonia’s] determination to adopt electronic voting”- Catalonia is well under way; hopefully the momentum they are showing now will keep over time.