Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Comparative Analysis of Different Voting Systems

In our previous post (Basic criteria for choosing voting technology) we covered the five basic principles to consider when choosing a voting system. We will now analyze Manual Voting (MV), Optical Scanners (OS), and Direct-Recording Electronic Voting Machines (DRE), according to the first two principles described before: Accessibility and Security.


The strongest supporters of MV (manual voting and manual counting) proclaim accessibility as one of its most alluring advantages. For the average voter, manual voting is simple and intuitive. It is actually a familiar system that most of us have used in the past to either elect a high school student council member, a graduation song, a advisory board member, etc. 

In theory, OS (manual voting but automated tallying) are also fairly easy to use. The voter marks his/her selection to later feed the ballot into the machine. However, when the election requires different ballots for many posts to be elected, this simplicity fades away. Furthermore, reading errors often reach a problematic 5-15% on Election Day. In this sense, experience demonstrates that OS can be frustrating for the voter, and also for operators and electoral authorities, as they will be held responsible for a considerable number of null votes. 

With the new technological developments, such as touch screens and voice sensitive devices, voting with a DRE system (electronic voting and automated tallying) has evolved to become user friendly. Modern voting machines simplify interaction by providing voters with feedback messages, visual or auditory help, and a confirmation of their choice in any preferred language. It is important to mention that this is the only voting method that allows correcting a wrongly marked selection. 

In recent years, an urge to grant access to a hassle-free voting experience to individuals with special needs has prompted electoral authorities to set new guidelines for voting systems. For instance, the federal law Help America Vote Act (HAVA), established in 2002 new conditions to give citizens with disabilities, including the blind and visually impaired, equal opportunities to participate in elections. 

Electoral authorities have had a difficult time trying to cope with these new standards while complying with universal mandates such as secrecy. For example, assisting an impaired individual can compromise the secrecy of the vote and independence of the voter. MV and OS systems offer little options to improve the voting experience of these citizens. Through the use of touch screens, friendly interfaces, visual and auditory assistance, DRE machines developers have taken ease of use to a whole new level. Their more customizable interface has allowed them to gain an edge over the other technologies in this regard. 


Many of the traditional problems faced in manual elections revolve around security issues. The high levels of human intervention necessary in sensitive areas, such as tallying and transmission of results, and the always latent incentive to alter results, are the root of unintended and malicious errors. Pre marking ballots, or ballot stuffing (the illegal act of one person submitting more ballots than allowed) are some of the usual problems encountered with manual voting. 

In terms of Security, Optical Scanners have had an advantage over MV as they diminish human interaction by substituting human counting and the transmission of results. However, the process of transmitting results is usually made through methods that do not guarantee 100% the safety of the data. Moreover, the typical irregularities often found with paper ballots are present with this technology. 

DRE voting system providers have in Security one of the most compelling selling attributes. By minimizing human interaction with electoral material, increasing levels of auditability, and recording, processing and transmitting the information through safe protocols, a well designed DRE machine impedes any alteration of the voter’s intent. 

An advanced DRE system provides a paper trail for each vote casted, thus creating a double record (physical and electronic) which enhances the transparency of the process. Some advanced Optical Scanners also offer this redundancy of records.