Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Comparative Analysis of Voting Systems (2)


Regarding transparency, both perception and reality are of equal importance. Election results should perfectly match the electorate’s expressed preferences, and also be perceived as tamper-free by all constituents. 

The openness to audits, before, during, and after the election will greatly enhance the perceived transparency of any system. Voting systems that provide a dual record of voting, such as DREs (if equipped with voter verified paper audit trail) and OS systems (if they are precinct count), posses quite an advantage over other voting systems. 

A DRE system with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) maintains an electronic record, and a paper record of the vote, each recorded at the time that the vote is cast. Random recounts can verify that both totals match each other. In case of an electronic attack on the system, the paper record would be available; and if the paper records were damaged or altered, the electronic record would still be available. This level of redundancy is key to generate a positive perception. 

Likewise, a precinct-based OS system contains an electronic record, recorded when the voter scans the ballot, as well as the paper ballot. Two independent records made at the same time that preclude any possibility of tampering. 

By comparison, an optical scanner system where the ballots are sent to a central site for scanning, or manual paper-based system are all single record approaches. A single record environment does not ensure the same level of voter confidence that a dual record does. 

It is important to mention that advanced systems such as Smartmatic’s Automated Electoral Solution, offer up to seven instances of vote verification. This level of transparency enhances the credibility of the results obtained. 


An accurate technology should truthfully capture, record and count the voter’s intent. 

As we learned from the infamous “butterfly ballot” used in Palm Beach County, Florida (as well as a number of other jurisdictions), during the 2000 Presidential Election, a poorly designed ballot can prevent some voters from accurately recording their intended selection on a ballot. Patterns of undervotes or spikes in voting for obscure, third party candidates provide compelling evidence of votes gone astray. 

A well-designed DRE system avoids these problems entirely. Overvoting is impossible, as the machine will not accept more selections than are valid for a particular contest. Undervoting protections are in place, as the voter is notified of any contests where no selections were made. Illegible write-ins are avoided, as selections are typed into an electronic keyboard. A summary can be presented to the voter to allow a final review and confirmation of choices. 

A precinct-based optical scan system has many of these same benefits. Over votes are rejected, and the voter is required to fill out a new ballot; under votes are identified to the voter. Traditionally OS have had a unacceptable rate of error (ranging from 5% to 15%) reading ballots. The accuracy level of OS is definitely lower that DREs. 

Manual systems are in a serious disadvantage when it comes to accuracy. Humans are bound to make mistakes, and manual systems greatly depend on humans on key stages of the voting process such as tallying, and transmitting results.