The Present and Future Ballot
Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, federal funds are provided for states to purchase or lease new voting systems—typically, "optical scan" or "direct recording electronic" (DRE) systems—thus hastening the demise of the gear-and-lever voting machine and the Votomatic type punch
card ballot.
Today's DRE touch-screen systems remain controversial. The absence of a paper ballot places importance upon the subtleties and security of computer code. The future of voting most likely will involve a touch-screen ballot with redundant security and
verification features.

Mailing ballot

An Oregon voter drops his ballot off at a collection booth in Portland on November 6, 2000. Optically read paper ballots marked by the voter are used in roughly one-third of United States election districts.

Mark Sense vote-by-mail optical ballot

Oregon conducted voting exclusively by mail in the 2000 general election.

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Optech Eagle optical ballot reader

Although the technology was pioneered in the late 1930s and has been widely used in standardized testing since the 1950s, it was not developed for balloting until 1968. In the early 1970s, these systems became popular in rural and lightly populated districts that previously counted paper ballots by hand.

Designed as a stand-alone, or decentralized precinct ballot counter, the Optech Eagle was introduced in 1989. The machine has two parts, the head and a ballot sorting box. The head scans the ballots and deposits them into one of the three compartments in the sorting box: one for ballots that cannot be read, another for ballots that have been read and counted, and a third for ballots needing the attention of elections officials. These may have stray marks that need interpretation, or may carry the name of a write-in candidate.

Courtesy International Foundation for Election Systems

Shouptronic voting machine

Electromechanical machines like the Shouptronic bridge the recent past of the lever machine and the future of fully electronic touch-screen voting. The Shouptronic resembles a traditional lever voting machine, right down to its privacy curtain. The candidate slate is printed over a backlit grid of illuminated buttons. A green VOTE button locks in and records the choices. Votes are recorded to a hard-drive memory. Recording features include a memory cartridge, a backup battery, and the means of printing a paper tally. This Shouptronic machine was used in Fairfax County, Virginia, from 1981 to 2002.

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Votronic touch-screen vote recorder

The Votronic vote recorder was the first battery-operated direct recording electronic (DRE) voting device. When on, the screen reveals a ballot. The voter indicates choices by touching the appropriate boxes on the screen using a plastic stylus. Developed in 1991, the Votronic was used primarily in North Carolina, where it replaced gear-and-lever machines and punch card systems.

Courtesy International Foundation
for Election Systems

Touch-screen voting

Touch-screen voting demonstration, Arlington, Virginia, February 10, 2004

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Touch-screen voting

Touch-screen voting, Bladensburg, Maryland, March 2, 2004