Common Electronic Voting and Counting Technologies
Last updated on December 17, 2013
There are many different electronic voting and counting technologies being used globally. The variety of technologies used makes it difficult to easily categorize them. The most common types of technologies are identified are as follows:
Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) System
Often referred to as electronic voting machines (EVMs), DRE systems use a keyboard, touch-screen, mouse, pen or other electronic device to allow a voter to record his or her vote electronically. DREs are used in non-remote, supervised locations (polling stations). The DRE system captures the voter’s choices and stores an electronic record of their vote in the machine. The data captured by each individual DRE unit is then transmitted by either electronic means (i.e., Internet, cellular network or memory card) or manually (i.e., by printing the results from each machine and tabulating them) to capture the total number of votes cast for specific parties or candidates. DRE systems may or may not produce a paper record to allow the voter to verify their voting choices. This paper record, also called a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), has been implemented in multiple ways in different countries.
DREs with VVPATs are perceived to have an advantage over DREs without VVPATs, because paper trails provide greater transparency to the voter, which can engender greater trust. DRE voting without VVPATs, which is a form of “black box voting,” does not provide sufficient means for voters and stakeholders to verify votes have been accurately recorded. DREs with VVPAT provide election management bodies (EMBs) and those who provide oversight with the potential to audit the results or conduct a meaningful recount. However, DREs with VVPATs also introduce greater technological complexity into the process, which may result in greater challenges for EMBs in terms of reliability of the machine, training for staff and sustainability of the overall system.
DREs can be confusing for voters who are not familiar or comfortable with information technology (IT). However, in some contexts, voters may benefit from a streamlined presentation of ballots on DREs in complicated voting systems – with or without VVPAT – where a paper ballot design may lead to a significant number of spoilt and invalid ballots. It is important to note that ballot design may be a challenge no matter which voting system is used.
Electronic Ballot Printers (EBPs)
EBPs are similar to DREs, in that the voter uses a DRE-type interface for the act of making voting choices. However, unlike DREs, an EBP does not store vote data. Instead, it prints out a paper receipt or produces a token containing the voting choice(s). The voter then takes this receipt or token and places it into the ballot box, which may be electronic and automatically count the vote.
EBPs are considered easier to understand and more user-friendly for the voter than DREs, as they split the actions of marking the voter’s choice and casting the ballot in the same way a voter marks and casts a ballot in traditional paper voting. The first machine (ballot printer) only marks the voter’s choice, but does not record the vote, while the second machine (ballot scanner or “electronic ballot box”) only records and tallies the votes. Like the DREs with a VVPAT, the voter can verify their vote, either on a printed paper ballot or by inserting the ballot token into another voting machine. There is the possibility of a recount of the paper receipt or token if the electronic results are challenged or audited. However, because they involve two separate machines, EBP systems may entail higher costs, require greater IT capacity from EMBs and encounter more challenges to ensuring sustainability than other systems.
Optical Mark Recognition (OMR)
OMR counting machines combine aspects of paper ballot voting with electronic counting. The voter uses a pen or pencil to mark his or her choices (usually by filling in an oval or connecting an arrow) on a special machine-readable paper ballot. The ballot is then read by an OMR machine that tallies votes using the marks made by the voter. There are two methods used to tally votes using an OMR system. The tallying can be done at the polling station with the voter feeding the ballot into the machine, or votes can be tallied at a central/regional counting facility where votes from more than one polling station are counted.
OMR systems provide greater ability for recounts than DREs without VVPAT. Generally, OMR systems cost less than DREs and may put less strain on EMBs in terms of sustainability of the systems. On the other hand, these systems entail significant focus on details such as ballot design, type of ink used, paper stock thickness and other factors that may inhibit the ability of OMR machines to accurately count votes. OMR machines are always used in a supervised, non-remote location.
Internet Voting System
In an Internet voting system, the voter casts his or her vote using a computer with access to the Internet. Internet voting generally takes place in an unsupervised, remote location, from any computer that has Internet access, such as a voter’s home or work. It can also take place in supervised, non-remote locations if, for example, electoral authorities provide Internet kiosks at polling stations.
Convenience and greater access are the two key benefits cited for a move to Internet voting. In terms of access, Internet voting is perceived to provide access to specific populations that may have difficulty in voting at polling stations, e.g. persons with disabilities and eligible voters living outside a country. However, Internet voting from unsupervised locations requires voting systems to place a greater emphasis on voter authentication to avoid impersonation, and also elicits concerns about the secrecy of the ballot. Internet voting also raises security concerns with regard to hacking into the system or other ways of corrupting data. Similar to DREs without VVPAT, Internet voting also raises questions about verifiability, may not allow recounts and presents challenges for adjudication of electoral complaints. Finally, transparency in Internet voting systems may be compromised to an even greater extent than with DREs. Such challenges are not beyond solution, but to date remain significant.
Electronic Voting and Counting Around the World