Voting Technology


The Federal Election Commission issued voluntary standards for voting systems in January 1990 ("Performance and Test Standards for Punchcard, Marksense, and Direct Recording Electronic Voting Systems").  It began the process of revising these standards in the late 1990s.

On May 15 and 16, 2001 the Committee on House Administration held a voting technology expo in 1310 Longworth, its hearing room. 

Among the thirteen companies presenting voting systems were some of the biggest names in the field, firms with decades of elections experience.  Also represented were several companies prompted  to have a shot at building a better voting machine by the historic November 2000 election.  

With punch-card systems now in great disfavor, the leading technologies are touch screen and optical scan, which uses a Scantron-like form.  Many states require that voting systems be certified by the National Association of State Election Directors.  NASED utilizes independent testing authorities to test both software and hardware, based on voluntary standards (history) developed by the Federal Election Commission.  

Each of the designs presented at the expo has advantages and disavantages.  For example, looking at touch screen systems, there are a range of possibilities.  The screen itself can be liquid crystal display or cathode ray monitor; it can be monochrome or color.  A small screen uses less energy, but it also requires the voter to scroll through many pages if there is a long ballot.  The presentation of the ballot on the screen is also important.  Is it intuitive?  Are the fonts sizable?

In addition to such essentials as accuracy and security, many other factors enter into the equation.  For poll workers, the system should be easy to set up and run.  Voting systems should be easy for all voters, including seniors and the disabled, to use.  Indeed, the new systems typically allow the blind, listening to an audio ballot through headphones, to vote.  Looking at cost, software is a major expense.  In terms of hardware, some systems employ off-the-shelf components, meaning that costs for repair can be kept down.  A system that does not use paper ballots entails considerable savings, but in the absence of a paper trail, voter trust becomes an issue. 

To avoid making potentially costly mistakes, election administrators must consider a host of such factors to determine which of the available systems best suits their particular jurisdiction.  

Progress in upgrading outmoded voting systems by the 2002 and 2004 elections depends heavily on funding.  Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, puts the cost to replace a voting machine at about $3,500 per unit, although actual costs depend on the specifics of individual contracts.  Monies to upgrade voting technology will likely come from a combination of federal, state and local sources.  

Leading bills in Congress would create a grant program; for example Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD)'s Voting Improvement Act (H.R.775) provides a maximum of $6,000 per precinct.  At the state level, the Florida legislation, signed by Gov. Jeb Bush on May 9, 2001, provides $7,500 per precinct in small counties and $3,750 per precinct in large counties.  Other states are not moving as quickly, however.

Election Data Services estimates  that, as of 1998, punch card systems were used in counties with about 32.4% of the population (more than one-third of precincts), optical scan 27.2%, lever machines 18.2%, electronic 8.9%, Datavote 4.0%, paper ballots 1.4%, and mixed 7.9%. >  Given that the Committee on House Administration has set as one of its five principles "elimination of punch-card voting systems," upgrading voting technologies will be an expensive proposition. 

Many of the new systems use a Smart Card.
Voting Systems Providers
Global Election Systems, Inc. -- McKinney, Texas
Founded in 1991, trades on AMEX.  Accu-Vote TS has large 15.1" diagonal touch screen.  Unit weighs 22 lbs with built-in battery; aim is to reduce to 17 lbs.
Shoup Voting Solutions -- Quakertown, Penn.
The granddaddy of voting machine companies, started in 1895 and now in its fourth generation.  Touch screen system currently going through certification.
Election Systems & Software -- Omaha, Neb.
ES&S has been in the elections business for 35 years; it emerged after American Information Systems, Inc. acquired the elections business of BRS Holdings in 1997.  ES&S also acquired Election Products, Inc. in 1998 and United States Election Corporation in 1999.  It is the largest elections only company, employing approx. 400 people, including 40 sales people.  iVotronicTM is lightweight (7 lbs) and portable.
UniLect Corporation -- Dublin, Calif.
Founded by Jack Gerbel, who has 37 years experience, starting with IBM punchcards.  Patriot touch screen voting system--up to 16 light weight (5 lb) voting devices daisy chain off a central unit.  Liquid crystal display touch screen.
Hart Intercivic, Inc. -- Austin, Texas
The firm, started in 1912, originally produced business forms; this evolved into e-government work (records automation, workflow and management).  Hart Intercivic is also a supplier of punch card and optical scan ballots, and it has been moving further into election systems in recent years, notably with its acquisition of Worldwide Election Systems in 1996.  eSlateTM is not a touch screen, but a "tough screen;" selections are made using a dial that scrolls through the choices; the voter uses buttons to move on to the next screen.
VoteHere -- Bellevue, Wash.
Founded 1996, partnership with Compaq, Cisco and Entrust Technologies.  PC-based voting system.
Danaher Corporation -- Gurnee, Illinois
A Fortune 500 company, Danaher Corporation trades on NYSE.  ELECTronic 1242 EVM.
Avante International Technology, Inc. -- Princeton Junction, NJ
This firm specializes in epoxies and materials; it also manufactures smart cards, and this was the connection that led it to look into voting machines after the Nov. 2000 election.  Vote-TrakkerTM is rather bulky.
Web Tools International -- Newport Beach, Calif.
IT consulting firm started looking at voting systems in Dec. 2000.  "We very quickly concluded that the Internet is not the right solution today."  AccuPoll on off the shelf components, has a touch screen interface, but generates a paper ballot.
Diversified Dynamics -- Richmond, Virginia
Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder is chairman of the board.  System 5 DVRS uses buttons rather than touch screen; portable but 8"x10" screen is rather small. -- Austin, Texas
This election software and services company started out as, but changed name to in Jan. 2000.
SureVote -- Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Founded by David Chaum, inventor of electronic cash known as eCash and founder of DigiCash.
Envox (US) Ltd. -- Austin, Texas
Automated vote by phone proposal.

Not represented at the Committee on House Administration Expo
Sequoia Voting Systems -- Oakland, Calif.
Subsidiary of Jefferson Smurfit Group, a leading producer of paper and paperboard headquartered in Ireland; Sequoia acquired Automatic Voting Machine company in 1984.  Sequoia provided the AVC Edge (R)  Touch-Screen Voting System used by Riverside County in the Nov. 2000 general election; at the time this was the largest election using touch-screen voting in U.S. history.  4,250 machines for 714 polling places cost $13.8 million.
Peter Cosgrove, President and CEO of Sequoia Voting Systems, explained the company's absence: "[D]ue to the short notice, we were unable to reschedule several important meetings, related to immediate customer demands, which had been previously set for that time."  He noted that the company regularly briefs government officials and attends exhibitions on topics relating to voting equipment.

Copyright 2001 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action