Voting Machines: History, Security, and Potential Problems

The process of voting itself has changed over time. When it comes to voting machines and voting equipment, changes occur often. But have we reached a point where machines are foolproof? Can glitches and hacks be completely avoided? And if they can't, is there anything we can do about it? Keep reading to learn more about the potential technology issues voting machines have, as well as the history of voting machines.

History of Voting: Machines and Devices

From counting beans to handwritten ballots in boxes, the types of voting machines/mechanisms used to actually cast votes has changed over the years. More sophisticated voting machine types have been put in place to help with ease, efficiency, and accuracy. They also help prevent voter fraud.

Here are some of the types of voting machines used since the late 1800s when machines were first used:

  • Punch card systems
  • Bean counting
  • Handwritten votes
  • Electronic ballot markers
  • Paper ballots

What Voting Machines Are Used Today?

As of 2018, most states are considered (to an extent) paper ballot states. This means that voters either use a physical piece of paper to vote or a paper trail is kept after electronic voting (in some way, shape, or form). Even with electronic voting systems, there's often a paper trail of votes.

So, what do voting machines really do? They help tally and tabulate votes. This means that voting machines keep tallies of who is ahead and project likely outcomes based on time, number of votes and more. All electronic machines have varying levels of accessibility and accountability, with no absolute foolproof way tallying to perfection.

Do you know if your state is a paper ballot state? Learn more about your state's paper trail voting requirements and what to expect when voting in upcoming elections from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Five Voting Machine Problems

Believe it or not, voting machines aren't foolproof. And while they've progressed over the years, there are still some barriers to electronic machines. Keep reading to learn about the top five potential problems with voting machines today.

1. Voting Machine Hacking Can Occur

With any electronic system (or system that contains an electronic component), hacking is possible. This can occur when a system needs patching or because it's connected to the Internet. Cyber attacks are still a threat, and the potential for hacking will always be an issue with digital machines.

2. Voting Machines Might Not Seem Like the Most Private Way to Vote

Between long lines and tight quarters waiting to vote, voting machines may make voters feel as if they are voting in the eyes of their peers and others in the community. If privacy screens are not in place or proper stations are not set up, voters may not feel they receive the privacy necessary to properly vote. Privacy issues could potentially prevent certain individuals from voting, especially if someone requires special accommodations to vote (like screen readers).

3. Voting Machine Glitches are Real – Even When Machines Are Working Properly

Electronic voting machines may or may not be connected to the Internet. Aside from being connected to the Internet and the potential for Internet glitches, there's the reality that the voting machine technology could have intermittent glitches. Voting machines are also calibrated and have requirements around calibration. Without proper calibration, they may not work properly or may have delays.

4. Outdated Systems Could Deliver Inaccurate Results

There are different types of technological systems used in elections across the U.S. Outdated systems, systems that are no longer supported, or systems that are no longer manufactured may cause unforeseeable problems on election day. If proper technology support isn't available, it could affect a voter's ability to vote.

5. Voting Machine Problems May Cause Lengthy Wait Times

A big challenge with voting on election day is finding the time to get out and vote. While voting machines are meant to speed up the process of voting, they do the opposite when they glitch. Reboots and restarts can create long waits and discourage large numbers of voters who may be unable to wait in line.

Sure There Are Potential Problems, But, All-in-All, Does Voting Equipment Really Work?

Voting equipment used to support voting machines and efficiencies vary in each state. There are various tools used to help voters cast their vote, some including optical/digital scans, devices to help with ballot marking, and more. For the most part, voting equipment helps ease the process of tallying votes. It's important to know about potential issues so you're aware if something happens when you vote on election day.

To learn more about voting equipment and how it's used to produce results, as well as accessibility and voting tips, visit NCLS's page on voting equipment.

When in Doubt, Talk to a Lawyer

Have questions about potential voting machine issues or equipment malfunctions in your state? Or are you worried about potential issues after casting your vote? Contact an attorney to learn more info and what you can do if you're a victim of voter fraud.