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United States General Accounting Office:



Prepared for the Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, 
Intergovernmental Relations and the Census, Committee on Government 
Reform, House of Representatives:

Released at 2:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, May 12, 2004:


Electronic Voting Offers Opportunities and Presents Challenges:

Statement of Randolph C. Hite, Director:

Information Technology Architecture and Systems:


GAO Highlights:

Highlights of GAO-04-766T, a testimony prepared for the Subcommittee on 
Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the 
Census, Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives

Why GAO Did This Study:

The technology used to cast and count votes is one aspect of the 
multifaceted U.S. election process. GAO examined voting technology, 
among other things, in a series of reports that it issued in 2001 
following the problems encountered in the 2000 election. In October 
2002, the Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act, which, among 
other things, established the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to 
assist in the administration of federal elections. The act also 
established a program to provide funds to states to replace older punch 
card and lever machine voting equipment. As this older voting equipment 
has been replaced with newer electronic voting systems over the last 2 
years, concerns have been raised about the vulnerabilities associated 
with certain electronic voting systems.

Among other things, GAO’s testimony focuses on attributes on which 
electronic voting systems can be assessed, as well as design and 
implementation factors affecting their performance. GAO also describes 
the immediate and longer term challenges confronting local 
jurisdictions in using any type of voting equipment, particularly 
electronic voting systems.

What GAO Found:

An electronic voting system, like other automated information systems, 
can be judged on several bases, including how well its design provides 
for security, accuracy, ease of use, and efficiency, as well as its 
cost. For example, direct recording electronic systems offer advantages 
in ease of use because they can have features that accommodate voters 
with various disabilities, and they protect against common voter 
errors, such as overvoting (voting for more candidates than is 
permissible); a disadvantage of such systems is their capital cost and 
frequent lack of an independent paper audit trail. Advantages of 
optical scan voting equipment (another type of electronic voting 
system) include capital cost and the enhanced security associated with 
having a paper audit trail; disadvantages include lower ease of use, 
such as their limited ability to accommodate voters with disabilities.

One important determinant of voting system performance is how it is 
designed and developed, including the testing that determines whether 
the developed system performs as designed. In the design and 
development process, a critical factor is the quality of the specified 
system requirements as embodied in applicable standards or guidance. 
For voting technology, these voluntary standards have historically been 
problematic; the EAC has now been given responsibility for voting 
system guidelines, and it intends to update them. The EAC also intends 
to strengthen the process for testing voting system hardware and 
software. A second determinant of performance is how the system is 
implemented. In implementing a system, it is critical to have people 
with the requisite knowledge and skills to operate it according to 
well-defined and understood processes. The EAC also intends to focus on 
these people and process factors in its role of assisting in the 
administration of elections.

In the upcoming 2004 national election and beyond, the challenges 
confronting local jurisdictions in using electronic voting systems are 
similar to those facing any technology user. These challenges include 
both immediate and more long term challenges, as shown in the table.

Challenges in Using Electronic Voting Systems: 

[See PDF for image]

[End of table]

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Randolph C. Hite at (202) 
512-3439 or

[End of section]

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I appreciate the opportunity to participate in today's hearing on 
electronic voting systems.[Footnote 1] In light of concerns associated 
with the voting systems used in the 2000 election, we produced a series 
of reports, issued in 2001,[Footnote 2] in which we examined virtually 
every aspect of the election process, including types of voting 
technology. As we reported in 2001, the particular technology used to 
cast and count votes is a critical part of this process, but it is only 
one facet of a multifaceted election process. Other facets include the 
people who implement and use the technology and the processes that 
govern its implementation, among which are the standards used to define 
the characteristics and performance of the technology. Accordingly, we 
recognized that no voting technology, however well designed, can be a 
magic bullet that will solve all the problems that can arise in the 
election process. At the same time, we also recognized that if not 
properly managed, this one facet of the election process can 
significantly undermine the integrity of the whole.

As requested, my testimony today will focus on electronic voting 
systems, and in doing so I will address (1) the role of these systems 
within the larger election process, (2) attributes that can be used to 
examine these systems' capabilities, (3) the importance of both system 
design and implementation to the performance of these systems, and 
(4) the challenges confronting local jurisdictions in using any type of 
voting equipment, particularly electronic voting systems.

In preparing for this testimony, we drew extensively from our published 
work on the election process. We augmented this work with reviews of 
more recent studies of electronic voting systems and other relevant 
documents. In addition, we interviewed commissioners of the newly 
appointed Election Assistance Commission (EAC) regarding its efforts to 
date and its plans, and we attended EAC and other commission hearings 
on electronic voting systems. Our follow-up work was performed from 
February 2004 to May 2004 in Washington, D.C. All the work on which 
this testimony is based was performed in accordance with generally 
accepted government auditing standards.

Results in Brief:

Electronic voting systems play a vital role in elections, but they are 
only one component in a multidimensional process. The people, 
processes, and technology that make up these various dimensions all 
contribute to the success of the overall election process. From a 
national perspective, this overall process involves many levels of 
government, including over 10,000 jurisdictions with widely varying 
characteristics and requirements. For example, the size of a 
jurisdiction and the languages spoken by voters are significant 
variables in local election processes, as is the performance of the 
particular voting system used.

An electronic voting system, like any type of automated information 
system, can be judged on several bases, including how well its design 
provides for security, accuracy, ease of use, and efficiency, as well 
as cost. For example, direct recording electronic systems have 
advantages in ease of use because they can have features that 
accommodate persons with various disabilities, and they provide 
features that protect against common voter errors; a disadvantage of 
such systems is their cost and their frequent lack of an independent 
paper audit trail. Advantages of optical scan voting equipment, which 
is another type of electronic voting system, include cost and the 
enhanced security associated with having a paper audit trail; 
disadvantages include lower ease of use, such as their limited ability 
to accommodate voters with disabilities.

Voting system performance is a function of two very important 
activities: system design and development--including the testing that 
determines whether the developed system performs as designed--and 
system implementation. One critical input to the design and development 
process is the quality of the specified system requirements as embodied 
in applicable standards. For voting technology, these standards have 
historically been problematic, and they are now a focus of the EAC. 
Critical inputs to the system implementation process are having people 
with the requisite knowledge and skills to operate and use the system, 
and having well-defined and understood processes governing this 
operation and use. Both are also areas of focus by the commission.

Looking toward to the upcoming 2004 national election and beyond, the 
challenges confronting local jurisdictions in using electronic voting 
systems are not unlike those facing any technology user. These 
challenges include (1) performing those security, testing, and 
maintenance activities needed to adequately ensure that the system 
operates as intended; (2) managing the system, the people who interact 
with the system, and the processes that govern this interaction as 
interrelated and interdependent parts; (3) having reliable measures and 
objective data to know whether the system is meeting the needs of the 
jurisdiction's user community (both the voters and the persons who 
administer the elections); and (4) making choices about future system 
changes in light of whether a given system will provide benefits over 
its useful life commensurate with life-cycle costs, and ensuring that 
these costs are affordable.


Following the 2000 national elections, we performed a comprehensive 
series of reviews covering our nation's election process, in which we 
identified a number of challenges. These reviews culminated in a 
capping report that summarized this work and provided the Congress with 
a framework for considering options for election administration 
reform.[Footnote 3] Our reports and framework were among the resources 
that the Congress drew on in enacting the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) 
of 2002,[Footnote 4] which provided guidance for fundamental election 
administration reform. Among other things, the act authorizes $3.86 
billion in funding over several fiscal years for programs to replace 
punch card and mechanical lever voting equipment, improve election 
administration, improve accessibility, train poll workers, and perform 
research and pilot studies. It also created the EAC to oversee the 
election administration reform process. Since the act's passage, a 
number of voting jurisdictions have replaced their older voting 
equipment with direct recording electronic systems. At the same time, 
concerns have been raised about the use of these systems; some critics 
have suggested, for example, that the security associated with the 
systems is not sufficient to ensure the integrity of the election 
process. In January 2004, the EAC began operations. On May 5, 2004, it 
held a public hearing to receive information on the use, security, and 
reliability of electronic voting devices. The hearing included panels 
of technology and standards experts, vendors of voting systems, state 
and local election administrators, and citizen advocacy groups. A major 
topic of the hearing was the security and reliability of touchscreen 
electronic voting systems.

GAO Work Following the 2000 Elections Provided a Framework for Election 
Administration Reform:

At the request of congressional leaders, committees, and members, we 
conducted an extensive body of work in the wake of the 2000 elections, 
which culminated in seven reports addressing a range of election-
related topics.

First, we reviewed the constitutional framework for the administration 
of elections, as well as major federal statutes enacted in this 
area.[Footnote 5] We reported that the constitutional framework for 
elections includes both state and federal roles. States are responsible 
for the administration of both their own elections and federal 
elections, but the Congress has enacted laws in several major areas of 
the voting process, including the timing of federal elections, voter 
registration, and absentee voting requirements. Congressional 
authority to legislate in this area derives from various constitutional 
sources, depending upon the type of election. For federal elections, 
the Congress has constitutional authority over both congressional and 
presidential elections.

Second, we examined voting assistance for military and overseas 
voters.[Footnote 6] We reported that although tools are available for 
such voters, many potential voters were unaware of them, and many 
military and overseas voters believed it was challenging to understand 
and comply with state requirements and local procedures for absentee 
voting. In addition, although information was not readily available on 
the precise number of military and overseas absentee votes that were 
disqualified in the 2000 general election and the reasons for 
disqualification, we found through a national telephone survey that 
almost two-thirds of the disqualified absentee ballots were rejected 
because of lateness or errors in completion of the envelope or form 
accompanying the ballot. We recommended that the Secretaries of Defense 
and State improve (1) the clarity and completeness of service guidance, 
(2) voter education and outreach programs, (3) oversight and evaluation 
of voting assistance efforts, and (4) sharing of best practices. The 
Departments of Defense and State agreed with our overall findings and 
recommendations, and as of May 2004, the recommendations had largely 
been implemented.

Third, we investigated whether minorities and disadvantaged voters were 
more likely to have their votes not counted because the voting method 
they used was less reliable than that of affluent white 
voters.[Footnote 7] According to our results, the state in which 
counties were located had more effect on the number of uncounted 
presidential votes than did counties' demographic characteristics or 
voting method. State differences accounted for 26 percent of the total 
variation in uncounted presidential votes across counties.[Footnote 8] 
County demographic characteristics accounted for 16 percent of the 
variation (counties with higher percentages of minority residents 
tended to have higher percentages of uncounted presidential votes, 
while counties with higher percentages of younger and more educated 
residents tended to have lower percentages of uncounted presidential 
votes), and voting equipment accounted for 2 percent of the variation.

Fourth, in a review of voting accessibility for voters with 
disabilities,[Footnote 9] we found that all states had provisions 
addressing voting by people with disabilities, but these provisions 
varied greatly. Federal law requires that voters with disabilities have 
access to polling places for federal elections, with some 
exceptions.[Footnote 10] All states provided for one or more 
alternative voting methods or accommodations intended to facilitate 
voting by people with disabilities. In addition, states and localities 
had made several efforts to improve voting accessibility for voters 
with disabilities, such as modifying polling places, acquiring new 
voting equipment, and expanding voting options, but state and county 
election officials surveyed cited various challenges to improving 
access. We concluded that given the limited availability of accessible 
polling places, other options that could allow more voters with 
disabilities to vote at a polling place on election day include 
reassigning them to other, more accessible polling places or creating 
accessible superprecincts in which voters from more than one precinct 
could all vote in the same building.

Fifth, we reported on the status and use of voting equipment standards 
developed by the Federal Election Commission (FEC).[Footnote 11] These 
standards define minimum functional and performance requirements, as 
well as minimum life-cycle management processes for voting equipment 
developers to follow, such as quality assurance. At the time of our 
review, no federal agency had explicit statutory responsibility for 
developing the standards; however, the FEC developed voluntary 
standards for computer-based systems in 1990,[Footnote 12] and the 
Congress provided funding for this effort. Similarly, no federal agency 
was responsible for testing voting systems against the federal 
standards. Instead, the National Association of State Election 
Directors accredited independent test authorities to test voting 
systems against the standards. We noted, however, that the FEC 
standards had not been updated since 1990 and were consequently out of 
date. We suggested that the Congress consider assigning explicit 
federal authority, responsibility, and accountability for the 
standards, including their proactive and continuous update and 
maintenance; we also suggested that the Congress consider what, if any, 
federal role is appropriate regarding implementation of the standards, 
including the accreditation of independent test authorities and the 
qualification of voting systems. Both of these matters were addressed 
in the Help America Vote Act of 2002,[Footnote 13] which, among other 
things, set up the EAC to take responsibility for voluntary voting 
system guidelines. We also made recommendations to the FEC aimed at 
improving the guidelines. Before the EAC became operational, the FEC 
continued to update and maintain the guidelines, issuing a new version 
in 2002.

Sixth, we issued a report on election activities and challenges across 
the nation.[Footnote 14] In this report, we described the operations 
and challenges associated with each stage of the election process, 
including voter registration; absentee and early voting; election day 
administration; and vote counts, certification, and recounts. The 
report also provided analyses on issues associated with voting systems 
that were used in the November 2000 elections and the potential use of 
the Internet for voting. Among other things, we pointed out that each 
of the major stages of an election depends on the effective interaction 
of people (the election officials and voters), processes (or internal 
controls), and technology (registration systems, election management 
systems, and voting systems). We also enumerated the challenges facing 
election officials at all stages of the election process.

Finally, we issued a capping report that included a framework for 
evaluating election administration reform proposals.[Footnote 15] 
Among other things, we observed that the constitutional and operational 
division of federal and state authority to conduct elections had 
resulted in great variability in the ways that elections are 
administered in the United States. We concluded that given the 
diversity and decentralized nature of election administration, careful 
consideration needed to be given to the degree of flexibility and the 
planned time frames for implementing new initiatives. We also concluded 
that in order for election administration reform to be effective, 
reform proposals must address all major parts of our election system--
its people, processes, and technology--which are interconnected and 
significantly affect the election process. And finally, we provided an 
analytical framework for the Congress to consider in deciding on 
changes to the overall election process.

The Help America Vote Act Was Enacted to Strengthen the Overall 
Election Process:

Enacted by the Congress in October 2002, the Help America Vote Act of 
2002 addressed a range of election issues, including the lack of 
explicit federal (statutory) responsibility for developing and 
maintaining standards for electronic voting systems and for testing 
voting systems against standards.

With the far-reaching goal of improving the election process in every 
state, the act affects nearly every aspect of the voting process, from 
voting technology to provisional ballots, and from voter registration 
to poll worker training. In particular, the act established a program 
to provide funds to states to replace punch card and lever machine 
voting equipment,[Footnote 16] established the EAC to assist in the 
administration of federal elections and provide assistance with the 
administration of certain federal election laws and programs, and 
established minimum election administration standards for the states 
and units of local government that are responsible for the 
administration of federal elections. In January 2004, the Congressional 
Research Service reported that disbursements to states for the 
replacement of older equipment and election administration improvements 
totaled $649.5 million.[Footnote 17]

The act specifically tasked the EAC to serve as a national 
clearinghouse and resource for compiling election information and 
reviewing election procedures; for example, it is to conduct periodic 
studies of election administration issues to promote methods of voting 
and administration that are most convenient, accessible, and easy to 
use for all voters. Other examples of EAC responsibilities include:

* developing and adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and 
maintaining information on the experiences of states in implementing 
the guidelines and operating voting systems;

* testing, certifying, decertifying, and recertifying voting system 
hardware and software through accredited laboratories;

* making payments to states to help them improve elections in the areas 
of voting systems standards, provisional voting and voting information 
requirements, and computerized statewide voter registration lists; and:

* making grants for research on voting technology improvements.

According to the act, reporting to the EAC will be the Technical 
Guidelines Development Committee, which will make recommendations on 
voluntary voting system guidelines. The National Institute of Standards 
and Technology (NIST) will provide technical support to the development 
committee, and the NIST Director will serve as its chairman.

In December 2003, the EAC commissioners were appointed, and the EAC 
began operations in January 2004. According to the commission chairman, 
the EAC's fiscal year 2004 budget is $1.2 million, and its near-term 
plans focus on complying with requirements established in HAVA, 
including issuing a report to the Congress on the status of election 
administration reform. The commission's longer term plans include a 
focus on developing best practices that can be shared across the 
election community, updating the voluntary voting system guidelines, 
and improving the process for independent testing of voting systems. 
Commissioners also told us that current operations are constrained by a 
lack of persons in key staff positions, including the Executive 
Director, General Counsel, and Inspector General.

Electronic Voting Systems Fall into Two Primary Categories:

In the United States today, most votes are cast and counted by one of 
two types of electronic voting systems: optical scan and direct 
recording electronic (DRE). For a small minority of registered voters 
(about 1 percent in the 2000 elections), votes are cast and counted 
manually on paper ballots. Two older voting technologies were also used 
in the 2000 elections: punch card equipment (used by 31 percent of 
registered voters in 2000) and mechanical lever voting machines (used 
by 17 percent of voters in 2000). These equipment types are being 
replaced as required by provisions established in HAVA.[Footnote 18]

Optical Scan Systems:

Optical scan voting systems use electronic technology to tabulate paper 
ballots. Although optical scan technology has been in use for decades 
for such tasks as scoring standardized tests, it was not applied to 
voting until the 1980s. In 2000, about 31 percent of registered voters 
voted on optical scan systems.

For voting, an optical scan system is made up of computer-readable 
ballots, appropriate marking devices, privacy booths, and a 
computerized tabulation device. The ballot, which can be of various 
sizes, lists the names of the candidates and the issues. Voters record 
their choices using an appropriate writing instrument to fill in boxes 
or ovals, or to complete an arrow next to the candidate's name or the 
issue. The ballot includes a space for write-ins to be placed directly 
on the ballot.

Optical scan ballots are tabulated by optical-mark-recognition 
equipment (see fig. 1), which counts the ballots by sensing or reading 
the marks on the ballot. Ballots can be counted at the polling place--
this is referred to as precinct-count optical scan[Footnote 19]--or at 
a central location. If ballots are counted at the polling place, voters 
or election officials put the ballots into the tabulation equipment, 
which tallies the votes; these tallies can be captured in removable 
storage media that are transported to a central tally location, or they 
can be electronically transmitted from the polling place to the central 
tally location. If ballots are centrally counted, voters drop ballots 
into sealed boxes, and election officials transfer the sealed boxes to 
the central location after the polls close, where election officials 
run the ballots through the tabulation equipment.

Figure 1: Precinct-Count Optical Scan Tabulator and Central-Count 
Optical Scan Tabulator:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Software instructs the tabulation equipment to assign each vote (i.e., 
to assign valid marks on the ballot to the proper candidate or issue). 
In addition to identifying the particular contests and candidates, the 
software can be configured to capture, for example, straight party 
voting and vote-for-no-more-than-N contests. Precinct-based optical 
scanners can also be programmed to detect overvotes (where the voter 
votes for two candidates for one office, for example, invalidating the 
vote) and undervotes (where the voter does not vote for all contests or 
issues on the ballot) and to take some action in response (rejecting 
the ballot, for instance). In addition, optical scan systems often use 
vote-tally software to tally the vote totals from one or more vote 
tabulation devices.

If election officials program precinct-based optical scan systems to 
detect and reject overvotes and undervotes, voters can fix their 
mistakes before leaving the polling place. However, if voters are 
unwilling or unable to correct their ballots, a poll worker can 
manually override the program and accept the ballot, even though it has 
been overvoted or undervoted. If ballots are tabulated centrally, 
voters do not have the opportunity to correct mistakes that may have 
been made.

Direct Recording Electronic Systems:

First introduced in the 1970s, DREs capture votes electronically, 
without the use of paper ballots. In the 2000 election, about 12 
percent of voters used this type of technology.

DREs come in two basic types, pushbutton or touchscreen, the pushbutton 
being the older technology; during the 2000 elections, pushbutton DREs 
were the most prevalent of the two types. The two types vary 
considerably in appearance (see fig. 2). Pushbutton DREs are larger and 
heavier than touchscreens.

Figure 2: DRE Pushbutton and DRE Touchscreen:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Pushbutton and touchscreen units also differ significantly in the way 
they present ballots to the voter. With the pushbutton, all ballot 
information is presented on a single "full-face" ballot. For example, a 
ballot may have 50 buttons on a 3 by 3 foot ballot, with a candidate or 
issue next to each button. In contrast, touchscreen DREs display the 
ballot information on an electronic display screen. For both pushbutton 
and touchscreen types, the ballot information is programmed onto an 
electronic storage medium, which is then uploaded to the machine. For 
touchscreens, ballot information can be displayed in color and can 
incorporate pictures of the candidates. Because the ballot space on a 
touchscreen is much smaller than on a pushbutton machine, voters who 
use touchscreens must page through the ballot information. Both 
touchscreen and pushbutton DREs can accommodate multilingual ballots.

Despite the differences, the two types have some similarities, such as 
how the voter interacts with the voting equipment. For pushbuttons, 
voters press a button next to the candidate or issue, which then lights 
up to indicate the selection. Similarly, voters using touchscreens make 
their selections by touching the screen next to the candidate or issue, 
which is then highlighted. When voters are finished making their 
selections on a touchscreen or a pushbutton DRE, they cast their votes 
by pressing a final "vote" button or screen. Until they hit this final 
button or screen, voters can change their selections. Both types allow 
voters to write in candidates. While most DREs allow voters to type 
write-ins on a keyboard, some pushbutton types require voters to write 
the name on paper tape that is part of the device.

Although DREs do not use paper ballots, they do retain permanent 
electronic images of all the ballots, which can be stored on various 
media, including internal hard disk drives, flash cards, or memory 
cartridges. According to vendors, these ballot images, which can be 
printed, can be used for auditing and recounts.

Some of the newer DREs use smart card technology as a security feature. 
Smart cards are plastic devices--about the size of a credit card--that 
use integrated circuit chips to store and process data, much like a 
computer. Smart cards are generally used as a means to open polls and 
to authorize voter access to ballots. For instance, smart cards on some 
DREs store program data on the election and are used to help set up the 
equipment; during setup, election workers verify that the card received 
is for the proper election. Other DREs are programmed to automatically 
activate when the voter inserts a smart card; the card brings up the 
correct ballot onto the screen. In general, the interface with the 
voter is very similar to that of an automatic teller machine.

Like optical scan devices, DREs require the use of software to program 
the various ballot styles and tally the votes, which is generally done 
through the use of memory cartridges or other media. The software is 
used to generate ballots for each precinct within the voting 
jurisdiction, which includes defining the ballot layout, identifying 
the contests in each precinct, and assigning candidates to contests. 
The software is also used to configure any special options, such as 
straight party voting and vote-for-no-more-than-N contests. In 
addition, for pushbutton types, the software assigns the buttons to 
particular candidates and, for touchscreens, the software defines the 
size and location on the screen where the voter makes the selection. 
Vote-tally software is often used to tally the vote totals from one or 
more units.

DREs offer various configurations for tallying the votes. Some contain 
removable storage media that can be taken from the voting device and 
transported to a central location to be tallied. Others can be 
configured to electronically transmit the vote totals from the polling 
place to a central tally location.

DREs are designed not to allow overvotes; for example, if a voter 
selects a second choice in a two-way race, the first choice is 
deselected. In addition to this standard feature, different types offer 
a variety of options, including many aimed at voters with disabilities, 
that jurisdictions may choose to purchase. In our 2001 work, we cited 
the following features as being offered in some models of DRE:

* A "no-vote" option. This option helps avoid unintentional undervotes. 
This provides the voter with the option to select "no vote (or 
abstain)" on the display screen if the voter does not want to vote on a 
particular contest or issue.

* A "review" feature. This feature requires voters to review each page 
of the ballot before pressing the button to cast the vote.

* Visual enhancements. Visual enhancements include color highlighting 
of ballot choices, candidate pictures, etc.

* Accommodations for voters with disabilities. Examples of options for 
voters who are blind include Braille keyboards and audio 
interfaces.[Footnote 20] At least one vendor reported that its DRE 
accommodates voters with neurological disabilities by offering head 
movement switches and "sip and puff" plug-ins.[Footnote 21] Another 
option is voice recognition capability, which allows voters to make 
selections orally.

* An option to recover spoiled ballots. This feature allows voters to 
recast their votes after their original ballots are cast. For this 
option, every DRE at the poll site would be connected to a local area 
network. A poll official would void the original "spoiled" ballot 
through the administrative workstation that is also connected to the 
local area network. The voter could then cast another ballot.

* An option to provide printed receipts. In this case, the voter would 
receive a paper printout or ballot when the vote is cast. This feature 
is intended to provide voters and/or election officials with an 
opportunity to check what is printed against what is recorded and 
displayed. It is envisioned that procedures would be in place to 
retrieve the paper receipts from the voters so that they could not be 
used for vote selling. Some DREs also have an infrared "presence 
sensor" that is used to control the receipt printer in the event the 
voter is allowed to keep the paper receipt; if the voter leaves without 
taking the receipt, the receipt is pulled back into the printer.

Expanded Use of Electronic Voting Systems Has Raised Concerns:

As older voting equipment has been replaced with newer electronic 
voting systems over the last 2 years, the debate has shifted from 
hanging chads and butterfly ballots to vulnerabilities associated with 
DREs. Problems with these devices in recent elections have arisen in 
various states. For example:

* Six DRE units used in two North Carolina counties lost 436 ballots 
cast in early voting for the 2002 general election because of a 
software problem, according to a February 9, 2004, report in Wired 
News. The manufacturer said that problems with the firmware of its 
touchscreen machines led to the lost ballots. The state was trying out 
the machines in early voting to determine if it wanted to switch from 
the optical scan machines it already owned to the new touchscreen 

* According to a January 2004 report in Wired News, blank ballots were 
recorded for 134 voters who signed in and cast ballots in Broward 
County, Florida. These votes represented about 1.3 percent of the more 
than 10,000 people who voted in the race for a state house 

* USA Today reported that four California counties suffered from 
problems with DREs in a March 2004 election, including miscounted 
ballots, delayed polling place openings, and incorrect ballots. In San 
Diego County, about one-third of the county's polling places did not 
open on time because of battery problems caused by a faulty power 

Additionally, questions are being raised about the security of DREs. 
Critics suggest that their use could compromise the integrity of the 
election process and that these devices need auditing mechanisms, such 
as receipt printers that would provide a paper audit trail and allow 
voters to confirm their choices.[Footnote 22] Among these critics are 
computer scientists, citizens groups, and legislators.

For example, computer scientists from Johns Hopkins and Rice 
Universities released a security analysis of software from a DRE of a 
major vendor, concluding that the code had serious security flaws that 
could permit tampering.[Footnote 23] Other computer scientists, while 
agreeing that the code contained security flaws, criticized the study 
for not recognizing how standard election procedures can mitigate these 
weaknesses. Following the Johns Hopkins and Rice study, Maryland 
contracted with both SAIC and RABA Technologies to study the same DRE 
equipment. The SAIC study found that the equipment, as implemented in 
Maryland, poses a security risk.[Footnote 24] Similarly, RABA 
identified vulnerabilities associated with the equipment.[Footnote 25] 
An earlier Caltech/MIT study[Footnote 26] noted that despite security 
strengths of the election process in the United States,[Footnote 27] 
current trends in electronic voting are weakening those strengths and 
introducing risks; according to this study, properly designed and 
implemented electronic voting systems could actually improve, rather 
than diminish, security.

Citizen advocacy groups are also taking action. For example, according 
to an April 21, 2004, press release from the Campaign for Verifiable 
Voting in Maryland, the group filed a lawsuit against the Maryland 
State Board of Elections to force election officials to decertify the 
DRE machines used in Maryland until the manufacturer remedies security 
vulnerabilities and institutes a paper audit trail.

Legislators and other officials are also responding to the issues. In 
at least 20 states, according to the Associated Press, legislation has 
been introduced requiring a paper record of every vote cast.[Footnote 
28] Following the problems in California described above, the 
California Secretary of State banned the use of more than 14,000 
touchscreen DREs and conditionally decertified 28,000 others.[Footnote 
29] According to a New York Times article, he also recommended that the 
state Attorney General consider taking civil and criminal action 
against the manufacturer for "fraudulent actions." The decision 
followed the recommendations of the state's Voting Systems and 
Procedures Panel, which urged the Secretary of State to prohibit the 
four counties that experienced difficulties from using their 
touchscreen units in the November 2004 election, according to an 
Associated Press article. The panel reported that the manufacturer did 
not obtain federal approval of the model used in the four affected 
counties and installed software that had not been approved by the 
Secretary of State. It also noted that problems with the systems 
prevented an unspecified number of voters from casting ballots. In 
addition, two California state senators have drafted a bill to prohibit 
the use of any DRE voting system without a paper trail in the 2004 
general election; they planned to introduce the bill if the Secretary 
of State did not act.[Footnote 30]

Despite Their Vital Role, Voting Systems Are Only One Aspect of the 
Larger Election Process:

Electronic voting systems represent one of many important components in 
the overall election process. This process is made up of several 
stages, with each stage consisting of key people, process, and 
technology variables. Many levels of government are involved, including 
over 10,000 jurisdictions with widely varying characteristics.

In the U.S. election process, all levels of government share 
responsibility. At the federal level, the Congress has authority under 
the Constitution to regulate presidential and congressional elections 
and to enforce prohibitions against specific discriminatory practices 
in all elections--federal, state, and local.[Footnote 31] It has passed 
legislation affecting the administration of state elections that 
addresses voter registration,[Footnote 32] absentee voting,[Footnote 
33] accessibility provisions for the elderly and handicapped,[Footnote 
34] and prohibitions against discriminatory practices.[Footnote 35] The 
Congress does not have general constitutional authority over the 
administration of state and local elections.

At the state level, the states are responsible for the administration 
of both their own elections and federal elections. States regulate the 
election process, including, for example, adoption of voluntary voting 
system guidelines, testing of voting systems, ballot access, 
registration procedures, absentee voting requirements, establishment 
of voting places, provision of election day workers, and counting and 
certification of the vote. In fact, the U.S. election process can be 
seen as an assemblage of 51 somewhat distinct election systems--those 
of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Further, although election policy and procedures are legislated 
primarily at the state level, states typically have decentralized this 
process so that the details of administering elections are carried out 
at the city or county levels, and voting is done at the local level. As 
we reported in 2001, local election jurisdictions number more than 
10,000, and their size varies enormously--from a rural county with 
about 200 voters to a large urban county such as Los Angeles County, 
where the total number of registered voters for the 2000 elections 
exceeded the registered voter totals in 41 states.

The size of a voting jurisdiction significantly affects the complexity 
of planning and conducting the election, as well as the method used to 
cast and count votes. In our 2001 work, we quoted the chief election 
official in a very large voting jurisdiction: "the logistics of 
preparing and delivering voting supplies and equipment to the county's 
4,963 voting precincts, recruiting and training 25,000 election day 
poll workers, preparing and mailing tens of thousands of absentee 
ballot packets daily and later signature verifying, opening and sorting 
521,180 absentee ballots, and finally, counting 2.7 million ballots is 
extremely challenging.":

The specific nature of these challenges is affected by the voting 
technology that the jurisdiction uses. For example, jurisdictions using 
DRE systems may need to manage the electronic transmission of votes or 
vote counts; jurisdictions using optical scan technology need to manage 
the paper ballots that this technology reads and tabulates. 
Jurisdictions using optical scan technology may also need to manage 
electronic transmissions if votes are counted at various locations and 
totals are electronically transmitted to a central tally point.

Another variable is the diversity of languages within a jurisdiction. 
In November 2000, Los Angeles County, for instance, provided ballots in 
Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Tagalog, as well as 
English. No matter what technology is used, jurisdictions may need to 
provide ballot translations; however, the logistics of printing paper 
materials in a range of languages, as would be required for optical 
scan technology, is different from the logistics of programming 
translations into DRE units.

Some states do have statewide election systems so that every voting 
jurisdiction uses similar processes and equipment, but others do not. 
For instance, we reported in 2001 that in Pennsylvania, local election 
officials told us that there were 67 counties and consequently 67 
different ways of handling elections.[Footnote 36] In some states, 
state law prescribes the use of common voting technology throughout the 
state, while in other states local election officials generally choose 
the voting technology to be used in their precincts, often from a list 
of state-certified options.

Whatever the jurisdiction and its specific characteristics, 
administering an election is a year-round activity, involving varying 
sets of people to carry out processes at different stages. These stages 
generally consist of the following:

* Voter registration. Among other things, local election officials 
register eligible voters and maintain voter registration lists, 
including updates to registrants' information and deletions of the 
names of registrants who are no longer eligible to vote.

* Absentee and early voting. This type of voting allows eligible 
persons to vote in person or by mail before election day. Election 
officials must design ballots and other systems to permit this type of 
voting, as well as educating voters on how to vote by these methods.

* The conduct of an election. Election administration includes 
preparation before election day, such as local election officials 
arranging for polling places, recruiting and training poll workers, 
designing ballots, and preparing and testing voting equipment for use 
in casting and tabulating votes, as well as election day activities, 
such as opening and closing polling places and assisting voters to cast 

* Vote counting. At this stage, election officials tabulate the cast 
ballots; determine whether and how to count ballots that cannot be read 
by the vote counting equipment; certify the final vote counts; and 
perform recounts, if required.

As shown in figure 3, each stage of an election involves people, 
processes, and technology.

Figure 3: Stages of Election Process:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Electronic voting systems are primarily involved in the last two 
stages, during which votes are cast and counted. However, the type of 
system that a jurisdiction uses may affect earlier stages. For example, 
in a jurisdiction that uses optical scan systems, paper ballots like 
those used on election day may be mailed in the absentee voting stage. 
On the other hand, a jurisdiction that uses DRE technology would have 
to make a different provision for absentee voting.

Electronic Voting Systems' Performance Can Be Judged on Several 

Although the current debate concerning electronic voting systems 
primarily relates to security, other factors affecting election 
administration are also relevant in evaluating these systems. Ensuring 
the security of elections is essential to public confidence and 
election integrity, but officials choosing a voting system must also 
consider other performance factors, such as accuracy, ease of use, and 
efficiency, as well as cost. Accuracy refers to how frequently the 
equipment completely and correctly records and counts votes; ease of 
use refers to how understandable and accessible the equipment is to a 
diverse group of voters and to election workers; and efficiency refers 
to how quickly a given vote can be cast and counted. Finally, 
equipment's life-cycle cost versus benefits is an overriding practical 


In conducting elections, officials must be able to assure the public 
that the confidentiality of the ballot is maintained and fraud 
prevented. In providing this assurance, the people, processes, and 
technology involved in the election system all play a role: the 
security procedures and practices that jurisdictions implement, the 
security awareness and training of the election workers who execute 
them, and the security features provided by the systems.

Election officials are responsible for establishing and managing 
privacy and security procedures to protect against threats to the 
integrity of elections.[Footnote 37] These security threats include 
potential modification or loss of electronic voting data; loss, theft, 
or modification of physical ballots; and unauthorized access to 
software and electronic equipment. Physical access controls are 
required for securing voting equipment, vote tabulation equipment, and 
ballots; software access controls (such as passwords and 
firewalls[Footnote 38]) are required to limit the number of people who 
can access and operate voting devices, election management software, 
and vote tabulation software. In addition, election processes are 
designed to ensure privacy by protecting the confidentiality of the 
vote: physical screens are used around voting stations, and poll 
workers are present to prevent voters from being watched or coerced 
while voting.

Examples of security controls that are embedded in the technology 
include the following:

* Access controls. Election workers may have to enter user names and 
passwords to access voting systems and software, so that only 
authorized users can make modifications. On election day, voters may 
need to provide a smart card or token[Footnote 39] to DRE units.

* Encryption. To protect the confidentiality of the vote, DREs use 
encryption technology to scramble the votes cast so that the votes are 
not stored in the same order in which they were cast. In addition, if 
vote totals are electronically transmitted, encryption is used to 
protect the vote count from compromise by scrambling it before it is 
transmitted over telephone wires and unscrambling it once it is 

* Physical controls. Hardware locks and seals protect against 
unauthorized access to the voting device once it has been prepared for 
the election (e.g., once the vote counter is reset, the unit is tested, 
and ballots are prepared).

* Audit trails. Audit trails provide documentary evidence to recreate 
election day activity, such as the number of ballots cast (by each 
ballot configuration or type) and candidate vote totals for each 
contest. Audit trails are used for verification purposes, particularly 
in the event that a recount is demanded. With optical scan systems, the 
paper ballots provide an audit trail. Since not all DREs provide a 
paper record of the votes, election officials may rely on the 
information that is collected by the DRE's electronic memory. Part of 
the debate over the assurance of integrity that DREs provide revolves 
around the reliability of this information.

* Redundant storage. Redundant storage media in DREs provide backup 
storage of votes cast or vote counts to facilitate recovery of voter 
data in the event of power or system failure.

The particular features offered by DRE and optical scan equipment 
differ by vendor make and model as well as the nature of the 
technology. DREs generally offer most of the features, but there is 
debate about the adequacy of the access controls and the audit trails 
that this technology provides. If DREs use tokens or smart cards to 
authenticate voters, these tokens must also be physically protected and 
may require software security protection. For optical scan systems, 
redundant storage media may not be required, but software and physical 
access controls may be associated with tabulation equipment and 
software, and if vote tallies are transmitted electronically, 
encryption may also be used. In addition, since these systems use paper 
ballots, the audit trail is clearer, but physical access to ballots 
after they are cast must be controlled. The physical and process 
controls used to protect paper ballots include ballot boxes as well as 
the procedures implemented to protect the boxes if they need to be 
transported, to tabulate ballots, and to store counted ballots for 
later auditing and possible recounts.


Ensuring that votes are accurately recorded and tallied is an essential 
attribute of any voting equipment. Without such assurance, both voter 
confidence in the election and the integrity and legitimacy of the 
outcome of the election are at risk. The importance of an accurate vote 
count increases with the closeness of the election. Both optical scan 
and DRE systems are claimed to be highly accurate. In 2001, our vendor 
survey showed virtually no differences in vendor representations of the 
accuracy of DRE and optical scan voting equipment, measured in terms of 
how accurately the equipment counted recorded votes.[Footnote 40] 
Vendors of optical scan equipment reported accuracy rates of between 99 
and 100 percent, with vendors of DREs reporting 100 percent accuracy.

As we reported in 2001, although 96 percent of local election 
jurisdictions were satisfied with the performance of their voting 
equipment during the 2000 election, according to our mail survey, only 
about 48 percent of jurisdictions nationwide collected data on the 
accuracy of their voting equipment for the election.[Footnote 41] 
Further, it was unclear whether jurisdictions actually had meaningful 
performance data. Of those local election jurisdictions that we visited 
that stated that their voting equipment was 100 percent accurate, none 
was able to provide actual data to substantiate these statements. 
Similarly, according to our mail survey, only about 51 percent of 
jurisdictions collected data on undervotes, and about 47 percent 
collected data on overvotes for the November 2000 election.[Footnote 

Although voting equipment may be designed to count votes as recorded 
with 100 percent accuracy, how frequently the equipment counts votes as 
intended by voters is a function not only of equipment design, but also 
of the interaction of people and processes. These people and process 
factors include whether, for example,

* technicians have followed proper procedures in testing and 
maintaining the system,

* voters followed proper procedures when using the system,

* election officials have provided voters with understandable 
procedures to follow, and:

* poll workers properly instructed and guided voters.

As indicated earlier, various kinds of errors can lead to voter 
intentions not being captured when ballots are counted. Avoiding or 
compensating for these errors may involve solutions based on 
technology, processes, or both. For example, DREs are designed to 
prevent overvoting; however, overvoting can also be prevented by a 
procedure to check optical scan ballots for overvotes before the voter 
leaves the polls, which can be accomplished by a precinct-based 
tabulator or by other means.

Ease of Use:

Like accuracy, ease of use (or user friendliness) largely depends on 
how voters interact with the voting system, physically and 
intellectually. This interaction, commonly referred to as the human/
machine interface, is a function of the system design, the processes 
established for its use, and user education and training. Among other 
things, how well jurisdictions design ballots and educate voters on the 
use of voting equipment affects how easy voters find the system to use. 
In the 2000 elections, for example, ballots for some optical scan 
systems were printed on both sides, so that some voters failed to vote 
one of the sides. This risk could be mitigated by clear ballot design 
and by explicit instructions, whether provided by poll workers or voter 
education materials. Thus, ease of use affects accuracy (i.e., whether 
the voter's intent is captured), and it can also affect the efficiency 
of the voting process (confused voters take longer to vote).

Accessibility to diverse types of voters, including those with 
disabilities, is a further aspect of ease of use. As described earlier, 
DREs offer more options for voters with disabilities, as they can be 
equipped with a number of aids to voters with disabilities. However, 
these options increase the expense of the units, and not all 
jurisdictions are likely to opt for them. Instead of technological 
solutions, jurisdictions may establish special processes for voters 
with disabilities, such as allowing them to be assisted to cast their 
votes; this workaround can, however, affect the confidentiality of the 


Efficiency--the speed of casting and tallying votes--is an important 
consideration for jurisdictions not only because it influences voter 
waiting time and thus potentially voter turnout, but also because it 
affects the number of voting systems that a jurisdiction needs to 
acquire and maintain, and thus the cost.

Efficiency can be measured in terms of the number of people that the 
equipment can accommodate within a given time, how quickly the 
equipment can count votes, and the length of time that voters need to 
wait. With DREs, the vote casting and counting functions are virtually 
inseparable, because the ballot is embedded in the voting equipment. 
Accordingly, for DREs efficiency is generally measured in terms of the 
number of voters that each machine accommodates on election day. In 
2001, vendors reported that the number of voters accommodated per DRE 
ranges from 200 to 1,000 voters per system per election day.

With optical scan systems, in contrast, vote casting and counting are 
separate activities, since the ballot is a separate medium--a sheet of 
paper or a computer card--which once completed is put into the vote 
tabulator. As a result, the efficiency of optical scan equipment is 
generally measured in terms of the speed of count (i.e., how quickly 
the equipment counts the votes on completed ballots). Complicating this 
measurement is the fact that efficiency differs depending on whether 
central-count or precinct-based tabulators are used. Central-count 
equipment generally counts more ballots per hour because it is used to 
count the ballots for an entire jurisdiction, rather than an individual 
polling site. For central-count optical scan equipment, 10 vendors 
reported speed of count ranges from 9,000 to 24,000 ballots per hour. 
For precinct-count optical scan equipment, vendors generally did not 
provide specific speed of count data, but they stated that one machine 
is generally used per polling site.

Generalizations about the effect of technology on wait times are 
difficult. In 2001, our mail survey found that 84 percent of 
jurisdictions nationwide were satisfied with the amount of voter wait 
time at the polling place during the November 2000 election, but that 
13 percent of jurisdictions considered long lines at the polling places 
to be a major problem.[Footnote 43] However, we estimated that only 10 
percent of jurisdictions nationwide collected information on the 
average amount of time that it took voters to vote. We were told by 
some jurisdictions that the length of time voters must wait is affected 
by ballots that include many races and issues. Some jurisdictions 
reported that their ballots were so long that it took voters a long 
time in the voting booth to read them and vote. As a result, lines 
backed up, and some voters had to wait for over an hour to cast their 
votes. Officials in one jurisdiction said that their voters experienced 
long wait times in part because redistricting caused confusion among 
voters, who often turned up at the wrong polling places. As these 
examples show, the voting system used is not always a major factor in 
voter wait times. However, processes that do depend on the system may 
affect the time that a voter must spend voting. For example, in 
precincts that use precinct-level counting technology for optical scan 
ballots, voters may place their ballots in the automatic feed slot of 
the tabulator. This process can add to voting time if the tabulator is 
designed to reject ballots that are undervoted, overvoted, or damaged, 
and the voter is given the opportunity to correct the ballot.


Generally, buying DRE units is more expensive than buying optical scan 
systems. For a broad picture, consider the comparison that we made in 
2001 of the costs of purchasing new voting equipment for local election 
jurisdictions based on three types of equipment: central-count optical 
scan equipment, precinct-count optical scan equipment, and touchscreen 
DRE units.[Footnote 44] Based on equipment cost information available 
in August 2001, we estimated that purchasing optical scan equipment 
that counted ballots at a central location would cost about $191 
million.[Footnote 45] Purchasing an optical scan counter for each 
precinct that could notify voters of errors on their ballots would cost 
about $1.3 billion. Purchasing touchscreen DRE units for each precinct, 
including at least one unit per precinct that could accommodate blind, 
deaf, and paraplegic voters, would cost about $3 billion.

For a given jurisdiction, the particular cost involved will depend on 
the requirements of the jurisdiction, as well as the particular 
equipment chosen. Voting equipment costs vary among types of voting 
equipment and among different manufacturers and models of the same type 
of equipment. For example, in 2001, DRE touchscreen unit costs ranged 
from $575 to $4,500. Similarly, unit costs for precinct-count optical 
scan equipment ranged from $4,500 to $7,500. Among other things, these 
differences can be attributed to differences in what is included in the 
unit cost as well as differences in the characteristics of the 

In addition to the equipment unit cost, an additional cost for 
jurisdictions is the software that operates the equipment, prepares the 
ballots, and tallies the votes (and in some cases, prepares the 
election results reports). Our vendor survey showed that although some 
vendors included the software cost in the unit cost of the voting 
equipment, most priced the software separately. Software costs for DRE 
and optical scan equipment could run as high as $300,000 per 
jurisdiction. The higher costs were generally for the more 
sophisticated software associated with election management systems. 
Because the software generally supported numerous equipment units, the 
software unit cost varied depending on the number of units purchased or 
the size of the jurisdiction.

Other factors affecting the acquisition cost of voting equipment are 
the number and types of peripherals required. In general, DREs require 
more peripherals than do optical scan systems, which adds to their 
expense. For example, some DREs require smart cards, smart card 
readers, memory cartridges and cartridge readers, administrative 
workstations, and plug-in devices (for increasing accessibility for 
voters with disabilities). Touchscreen DREs may also offer options that 
affect the cost of the equipment, such as color versus black and white 
screens. In addition, most DREs and all optical scan units require 
voting booths, and most DREs and some precinct-based optical scan 
tabulators offer options for modems. Precinct-based optical scan 
tabulators also require ballot boxes to capture the ballots after they 
are scanned.

Once jurisdictions acquire the voting equipment, they must also incur 
the cost to operate and maintain it, which can vary considerably. For 
example, in 2001, jurisdictions that used DREs reported a range of 
costs from about $2,000 to $27,000. Similarly, most jurisdictions that 
used optical scan equipment reported that operations and maintenance 
costs ranged from about $1,300 to $90,000. The higher ends of these 
cost ranges generally related to the larger jurisdictions. In fact, one 
large jurisdiction that used optical scan equipment reported that its 
operating costs were $545,000. In addition, the jurisdictions reported 
that these costs generally included software licensing and upgrades, 
maintenance contracts with vendors, equipment replacement parts, and 
supply costs.

For decisions on whether to invest in new voting equipment, both 
initial capital costs (i.e., cost to acquire the equipment) and long-
term support costs (i.e., operation and maintenance costs) are 
relevant. Moreover, these collective costs (i.e., life-cycle costs) 
need to be viewed in the context of the benefits the equipment will 
provide over its useful life. It is advisable to link these benefits 
directly to the performance characteristics of the equipment and the 
needs of the jurisdiction.

Electronic Voting System Performance Depends on System Design and 

The performance of any information technology system, including 
electronic voting systems, is heavily influenced by a number of 
factors, not the least of which is the quality of the system's design 
and the effectiveness with which the system is implemented in an 
operational setting. System design and implementation, in turn, are a 
function of such things as how well the system's requirements are 
defined, how well the system is tested, and how well the people that 
operate and use the system understand and follow the procedures that 
govern their interaction with it. Our work in 2001 raised concerns 
about the FEC's voting system standards, and showed that practices 
relative to testing and implementation of voting systems varied across 
states and local jurisdictions.

Voting Systems Should Be Designed, Built, and Tested against Well-
Defined Standards:

Like that of any information technology product, the design of a voting 
system starts with the explicit definition of what the system is to do 
and how well it is to do it. These requirements are then translated 
into design specifications that are used to develop the system. 
Organizations such as the Department of Defense and the Institute of 
Electrical and Electronics Engineers have developed guidelines for 
various types of systems requirements and for the processes that are 
important to managing the development of any system throughout its life 
cycle. These guidelines address types of product requirements (e.g., 
functional and performance), as well as documentation and process 
requirements governing the production of the system.

In the case of voting systems, the FEC had assumed responsibility for 
issuing standards that embodied these requirements, a responsibility 
that HAVA has since assigned to the EAC. The FEC standards are 
nevertheless still the operative standards until the EAC updates them. 
These FEC-issued standards apply to system hardware, software, 
firmware, and documentation,[Footnote 46] and they span 
prevoting,[Footnote 47] voting,[Footnote 48] and postvoting 
activities.[Footnote 49] They also address, for example, requirements 
relating to system security; system accuracy and integrity; system 
auditability; system storage and maintenance; and data retention and 
transportation. In addition to these standards, some states and local 
jurisdictions have specified their own voting system requirements.

In 2001, we cited a number of problems with the FEC-issued voting 
system standards, including missing elements of the standards. 
Accordingly, we made recommendations to improve the standards. 
Subsequently, the FEC approved the revised voting system standards on 
April 30, 2002. According to EAC commissioners with whom we spoke, the 
commission has inherited the FEC standards, but it plans to work with 
NIST to revise and strengthen them.

To ensure that systems are designed and built in conformance with 
applicable standards, our work in 2001 found that three levels of tests 
are generally performed: qualification tests, certification tests, and 
acceptance tests. For voting systems, the FEC-issued standards called 
for qualification testing to be performed by independent testing 
authorities. According to the standards, this testing is to ensure that 
voting systems comply with both the FEC standards and the systems' own 
design specifications. State standards define certification tests, 
which the states generally perform to determine how well the systems 
conform to individual state laws, requirements, and practice.[Footnote 
50] Finally, state and local standards define acceptance testing, 
performed by the local jurisdictions procuring the voting systems. This 
testing is to determine whether the equipment, as delivered and 
installed, satisfies all the jurisdiction's functional and performance 
requirements. Beyond these levels of testing, jurisdictions also 
perform routine maintenance and diagnostic activities to further ensure 
proper system performance on election day.

Our 2001 work found that the majority of states (38) had adopted the 
FEC standards then in place,[Footnote 51] and thus these states 
required that the voting systems used in their jurisdictions passed 
qualification testing.[Footnote 52] In addition, we reported that 
qualified voting equipment had been used in about 49 percent (±7 
percentage points) of jurisdictions nationwide that used DREs and about 
46 percent (±7 percentage points) of jurisdictions nationwide that used 
optical scan technology. However, about 46 percent (±5 percentage 
points) reported that they did not know whether their equipment had 
been qualified.

As we reported in 2001, 45 states and the District of Columbia told us 
that they had certification testing programs, and we estimate from our 
mail survey that about 90 percent of jurisdictions used state-certified 
voting equipment in the 2000 national election.[Footnote 53] In 
addition, we reported that most of the jurisdictions that had recently 
bought new voting equipment had conducted some form of acceptance 
testing. However, the processes and steps performed and the people who 
performed them varied. For example, in one jurisdiction that purchased 
DREs, election officials stated that testing consisted of a visual 
inspection, power-up, opening of polls, activation and verification of 
ballots, and closing of polls. In contrast, officials in another 
jurisdiction stated that they relied entirely on the vendor to test 
their DREs. In jurisdictions that used optical scan equipment, 
acceptance testing generally consisted of running decks of test cards. 
For example, officials from one jurisdiction stated that they tested 
each unit with the assistance of the vendor using a vendor-supplied 
test deck.

Our 2001 work found that the processes and people involved in routine 
system maintenance, diagnostic, and pre-election day checkout 
activities varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, about 
90 percent of jurisdictions nationwide using DRE and optical scan 
technology had performed routine or manufacturer-suggested maintenance 
and checkout before the 2000 national election. However, our visits to 
27 local election jurisdictions revealed variations in the frequency 
with which jurisdictions performed such routine maintenance. For 
example, some performed maintenance right before an election, while 
others performed maintenance regularly throughout the year. For 
example, officials in one jurisdiction that used DREs stated that they 
tested the batteries monthly.

Voting Systems Should Be Properly Implemented:

Proper implementation of voting systems is a matter of people knowing 
how to carry out appropriately designed processes to ensure that the 
technology performs as intended in an operational setting. According to 
the EAC commissioners, one of their areas of focus will be election 
administration processes and the people who carry out these processes. 
Examples include ballot preparation, voter education, recruiting and 
training poll workers, setting up the polls, running the election, and 
counting the votes.

Ballot preparation. Whether ballots are electronic or paper, they need 
to be designed in a way that promotes voter understanding when they are 
actually used. Designing both optical scan and DRE ballots requires 
consideration of the different types of human interaction entailed and 
the application of some human factors expertise. For DREs, programming 
skills need to be applied to create the ballot and enter the ballot 
information onto an electronic storage medium, which is then uploaded 
to the unit. For optical scan systems, paper ballots need to be 
designed and printed in specified numbers for distribution to polling 
places; they may also be used for absentee balloting, usually in 
combination with printed mailing envelopes. Electronic "ballots" in DRE 
units do not require distribution separate from the distribution of the 
voting equipment itself; however, the use of DREs means that a separate 
technique is necessary for absentee ballots--generally paper ballots. 
Thus, the use of these units generally requires a mixed election 

Voter education. Implementation of any voting method requires that 
voters understand how to vote--that is, what conventions are followed. 
For optical scan systems, voters need to understand how to mark the 
ballots, they need to know what kinds of marker (type of pen or pencil) 
can be used, they need to be informed if a ballot must be marked on 
both sides, and so on. For DRE systems, voters need to understand how 
to select candidates or issues and understand that their votes are not 
cast until the cast vote button is pressed; for touchscreens, they need 
to know how to navigate the various screens presented to them.

Voters also need to understand the procedure for write-in votes. In 
2001, one jurisdiction had an almost 5 percent overvote rate because 
voters did not understand the purpose of the ballot section permitting 
write-in votes. Voters selected a candidate on the ballot and then 
wrote the candidate's name in the write-in section of the ballot, thus 
overvoting and spoiling the ballot. In addition to voter education, how 
the system is programmed to operate can also address this issue. For 
example, precinct-count optical scan equipment can be programmed to 
return a voter's ballot if the ballot is overvoted or undervoted and 
allow the voter to make changes.

Poll worker recruitment and training. Poll workers need implementation 
training. They need to be trained not only in how to assist voters to 
use the voting system, but also in how to use the technology for the 
tasks poll workers need to perform. These tasks can vary greatly from 
jurisdiction to jurisdiction. When more sophisticated voting systems 
are used at polling sites, jurisdictions may find it challenging to 
find poll workers with the skills to implement and use newer 
technologies. In 2001, we quoted one election official who said that 
"it is increasingly difficult to find folks to work for $6 an hour. We 
are relying on older retired persons--many who can't/won't keep up with 
changes in the technology or laws. Many of our workers are 70+.":

Setting up the polls. Proper setup of polling places raises a number of 
implementation issues related to the people, processes, and technology 
involved. For DREs, the need for appropriate power outlets and possibly 
network connections limits the sites that can be used as polling 
places. In addition, setting up, initializing, and sometimes networking 
DRE units are technically challenging tasks. Technicians and vendor 
representatives may be needed to perform these tasks or to assist poll 
workers with them. In addition, with DREs, computer security issues 
come into play that are different from those associated with the paper 
and pencil tools that voters use in optical scan systems. Besides the 
units themselves, many DRE systems use cards or tokens that must be 
physically secured. With optical scan equipment, the ballots must be 
physically secured. Further, if precinct-based tabulation is used with 
an optical scan system, the tabulation equipment must be protected from 

Running the election. Many implementation issues associated with 
running the election are associated with the interaction of voters with 
the technology. Although both DREs and optical scan systems are based 
on technologies that most voters will have encountered before, general 
familiarity is not enough to avoid voter errors. With optical scan, 
voter errors are generally related to improperly marked ballots: the 
wrong marking device, stray marks, too many marks (overvotes), and so 
on. As described already, DRE equipment is designed to minimize voter 
error (by preventing overvotes, for example), but problems can also 
occur with this voting method. For example, many DREs require the voter 
to push a cast vote button to record the vote. However, some voters 
forget to push this button and leave the polling place without doing 
so. Similarly, after pressing the final cast vote button, voters cannot 
alter their votes. In some cases, this button may be pressed by 
mistake--for example, a small child being held by a parent may knock or 
kick the final vote button before the parent has completed the ballot.

The technology is not the only factor determining the outcome in these 
situations, as different jurisdictions have different rules and 
processes concerning such problems. In 2001, we reported that when 
voters forgot to press the cast vote button, one jurisdiction required 
that an election official reach under the voting booth curtain and push 
the cast vote button without looking at the ballot. However, another 
jurisdiction required that an election official invalidate the ballot 
and reset the machine for a new voter.

Counting the votes. Finally, implementation of the processes for 
counting votes is affected both by the technology used and by local 
requirements. With DREs, votes are collected within each unit. Some 
contain removable storage media that can be taken from the voting unit 
and transported to a central location to be tallied. Others can be 
configured to electronically transmit the vote totals from the polling 
place to a central tally location. As described earlier, optical scan 
systems also vary in the way votes are counted, depending on whether 
precinct-based or centralized tabulation equipment is used. For optical 
scan systems, officials follow state and local regulations and 
processes to determine whether and how to count ballots that cannot be 
read by the tabulation equipment. Counting such ballots may involve 
decisions on how to judge voter intent, which are also generally 
governed by state and local regulations and processes.

In addition, depending on the type of voting technology used, ways to 
perform recounts may differ. For optical scan devices, recounts can be 
both automatic and manual; as in the original vote counting, officials 
make decisions on counting ballots that cannot be read by the 
tabulation equipment and on voter intent. With DREs there is no 
separate paper ballot or record of the voter's intention, and therefore 
election officials rely on the information recorded in the machine's 
memory: that is, permanent (read only) electronic images of each of the 
"marked" ballots. The assurance that these images are an accurate 
record of the vote depends on several things, including the proper 
implementation of the processes involved in designing, maintaining, 
setting up, and using the technology.

Jurisdictions Face Immediate and Longer Term Challenges in Leveraging 
Voting Technologies:

In 2001, we identified four key challenges confronting local 
jurisdictions in effectively using and replacing voting technologies. 
These challenges are not dissimilar to those faced by any organization 
seeking to leverage modern technology to support mission operations. 
The first two challenges are particularly relevant in the near term, as 
jurisdictions look to position themselves for this year's national 
elections. The latter two are more relevant to jurisdictions' strategic 
acquisition and use of modern voting systems.

Ensuring that Necessary Security, Testing, and Maintenance Activities 
Are Performed:

Maximizing the performance of the voting systems that jurisdictions 
have and plan to use in November 2004 means taking proactive steps 
between now and then to best ensure that systems perform as intended. 
These steps include activities aimed at securing, testing, and 
maintaining these systems. We reported in 2001 that although the vast 
majority of jurisdictions performed security, testing, and maintenance 
activities in one form or another, the extent and nature of these 
activities varied among jurisdictions and depended on the availability 
of resources (financial and human capital) committed to them. The 
challenge facing all voting jurisdictions will be to ensure that these 
activities are fully and properly performed.

Managing the People, Processes, and Technology as Components of the 
Overall Process:

As previously discussed in this testimony, jurisdictions need to manage 
the triad of people, processes, and technology as interrelated and 
interdependent parts of the total voting process. Given the amount of 
time that remains between now and the November 2004 elections, 
jurisdictions' voting system performance is more likely to be 
influenced by improvements in poll worker system operation training, 
voter education about system use, and vote casting procedures than by 
changes to the systems themselves.[Footnote 54] The challenge for 
voting jurisdictions is thus to ensure that these people and process 
issues are dealt with effectively.

Having Reliable System Performance Measures and Objective Data:

Reliable measures and objective data are needed for jurisdictions to 
know whether the technology being used is meeting the needs of the user 
communities (both the voters and the officials who administer the 
elections). In 2001, we reported that the vast majority of 
jurisdictions were satisfied with the performance of their respective 
technologies in the November 2000 elections. However, this satisfaction 
was mostly based not on objective data measuring performance, but 
rather on the subjective impressions of election officials. Although 
these impressions should not be discounted, informed decisionmaking on 
voting technology investment requires more objective data. The 
challenge for jurisdictions is to define measures and begin collecting 
data so that they can definitely know how their systems are performing.

Ensuring That Technology Cost Is Commensurate with Benefits:

Jurisdictions must be able to ensure that the technology will provide 
benefits over its useful life that are commensurate with life-cycle 
costs (acquisition as well as operations and maintenance) and that 
these collective costs are affordable and sustainable. In 2001, we 
reported that the technology type and configuration that jurisdictions 
employed varied depending on each jurisdiction's unique circumstances, 
such as size and resource constraints, and that reliable data on life-
cycle costs and benefits were not available. The challenge for 
jurisdictions is to view and treat voting systems as capital 
investments and to manage them as such, including basing decisions on 
technology investments on reliable analyses of quantitative and 
qualitative return on investment.

In closing, I would like to say again that electronic voting systems 
are an undeniably critical link in the overall election chain. While 
this link alone cannot make an election, it can break one. The concerns 
being surfaced by electronic voting system experts and others highlight 
the potential for problems in the upcoming 2004 national elections if 
the challenges that we cited in 2001 and reiterate in this testimony 
are not effectively addressed. Although the EAC only recently began 
operations and is not yet at full strength, it has no choice but to hit 
the ground running to ensure that jurisdictions and voters are educated 
and well-informed about the proper implementation and use of electronic 
voting systems, and to ensure that jurisdictions take the appropriate 
steps--related to people, process, and technology--that are needed 
regarding security, testing, and maintenance. More strategically, the 
EAC needs to consider strengthening the voluntary voting system 
guidelines and the testing associated with enforcing these guidelines. 
Critical to the commission's ability to do this will be the adequacy of 
resources at its disposal and the degree of cooperation it receives 
from entities at all levels of government.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer 
any questions that you or other Members of the Subcommittee may have at 
this time.

Contact and Acknowledgements:

For further information, please contact Randolph C. Hite at (202) 512-
6256 or by e-mail at Other key contributors to this 
testimony were Barbara S. Collier, Richard B. Hung, John M. Ortiz, Jr., 
Maria J. Santos, and Linda R. Watson.


[1] In this testimony, the term electronic voting system is used 
generically, to refer both to optical scan systems and direct recording 
electronic systems, both of which depend on electronic technology. Each 
type of system is described more fully in the Background section of 
this testimony.

[2] For example, U.S. General Accounting Office, Elections: 
Perspectives on Activities and Challenges across the Nation, GAO-02-3 
(Washington, D.C.: Oct. 15, 2001); Elections: Status and Use of Federal 
Voting Equipment Standards, GAO-02-52 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 15, 
2001); and Elections: A Framework for Evaluating Reform Proposals, GAO-
02-90 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 15, 2001). 

[3] U.S. General Accounting Office, Elections: A Framework for 
Evaluating Reform Proposals, GAO-02-90 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 15, 

[4] Pub. L. No. 107-252.

[5] U.S. General Accounting Office, Elections: The Scope of 
Congressional Authority in Election Administration, GAO-01-470 
(Washington, D.C.: Mar. 13, 2001).

[6] U.S. General Accounting Office, Elections: Voting Assistance to 
Military and Overseas Citizens Should Be Improved, GAO-01-1026 
(Washington, D.C.: Sept. 28, 2001).

[7] U.S. General Accounting Office, Elections: Statistical Analysis of 
Factors That Affected Uncounted Votes in the 2000 Presidential 
Election, GAO-02-122 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 15, 2001).

[8] State differences may have included such factors as statewide voter 
education efforts, state standards for determining what is a valid 
vote, the use of straight party ballots, the number of candidates on 
the ballot, the use of provisional ballots, and the extent to which 
absentee or early voting occurred.

[9] U.S. General Accounting Office, Voters with Disabilities: Access to 
Polling Places and Alternative Voting Methods, GAO-02-107 (Washington, 
D.C.: Oct. 15, 2001).

[10] 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973ee-1.

[11] U.S. General Accounting Office, Elections: Status and Use of 
Federal Voting Equipment Standards, GAO-02-52 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 
15, 2001).

[12] Performance and Test Standards for Punchcard, Marksense, and 
Direct Recording Electronic Voting Systems (January 1990).

[13] Pub. L. 107-252.

[14] U.S. General Accounting Office, Elections: Perspectives on 
Activities and Challenges across the Nation, GAO-02-03 (Washington, 
D.C.: Oct. 15, 2001);

[15] U.S. General Accounting Office, Elections: A Framework for 
Evaluating Reform Proposals, GAO-02-90 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 15, 

[16] The General Services Administration (GSA) is responsible for 
administering grants to the states to replace punch card systems and 
lever machines in qualifying states, including providing payments for 
general election administration improvements to states that apply for 
funds to replace voting equipment.

[17] Kevin J. Coleman and Eric A. Fischer, Elections Reform: Overview 
and Issues, Congressional Research Service RS20898 (Washington, D.C.: 
Jan. 21, 2004).

[18] Pub. L. 107-252, Sec. 102, provides federal funds to states for 
the systematic removal and replacement of punch card voting systems and 
lever voting systems in time for the regularly scheduled general 
election for federal offices to be held in November 2004; states that 
receive a certified waiver may extend their replacement time frame 
until the first election for federal office after January 1, 2006. 

[19] Precinct-count optical scan equipment sits on a ballot box with 
two compartments for scanned ballots--one for accepted ballots (i.e., 
those that are properly filled out) and one for rejected ballots (i.e., 
blank ballots, ballots with write-ins, or those accepted because of a 
forced override). In addition, an auxiliary compartment in the ballot 
box is used for storing ballots if an emergency arises (e.g., loss of 
power or machine failure) that prevents the ballots from being scanned.

[20] According to spokespersons for national advocacy groups for people 
with disabilities, only a small percentage of blind people have the 
Braille proficiency needed to vote using a Braille ballot.

[21] Using a mouth-held straw, the voter issues switch commands--hard 
puff, hard sip, soft puff, and soft sip--to provide signals or 
instructions to the voting machine.

[22] Stanford University computer science professor David Dill was 
reported as saying "All of this just underscores the need for voting 
machines to have a paper trail." Dill runs Verified Voting, a group 
that is urging election officials and legislators to mandate voter-
verified paper ballots as audit tools.

[23] Tadayoshi Kohno, Adam Stubblefield, Aviel D. Rubin, and Dan S. 
Wallach, Analysis of an Electronic Voting System, Johns Hopkins 
University Information Security Institute, TR-2003-19 (July 2003).

[24] Science Applications International Corporation, Risk Assessment 
Report, SAIC-6099-2003-261 (Sept. 2, 2003).

[25] RABA Technologies, LLC, Trusted Agent Report (Jan. 20, 2004).

[26] Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, Voting: What Is, What Could 
Be (July 2001). (

[27] These strengths include the openness of the election process, 
which permits observation of counting and other aspects of election 
procedure; the decentralization of elections and the division among 
different levels of government and groups of people; equipment that 
produces "redundant trusted recordings" of votes; and the public nature 
and control of the election process.

[28] Rachel Konrad, Legislators Wary of Electronic Voting, The 
Associated Press (Apr. 24, 2004).

[29] John Schwartz, "High-Tech Voting Is Banned in California," New 
York Times (May 1, 2004).

[30] Tim Reiterman, Stuart Pfeifer, and Jean O. Pasco, "State Is Urged 
to Ban Vote Machine," Los Angeles Times (Apr. 24, 2004).

[31] For more information on the role of the federal government in the 
administration of elections, see U.S. General Accounting Office, 
Elections: The Scope of Congressional Authority in Election 
Administration, GAO-01-470 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 13, 2001).

[32] National Voter Registration Act of 1993, commonly known as the 
"Motor Voter" Act; 42 U.S.C. 1973gg to 1973gg-10.

[33] Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (1986); 42 
U.S.C. 1973ff to 1973ff-6.

[34] Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act (1984); 
42 U.S.C. 1973ee to 1973ee-6.

[35] Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. 1973 to 1973bb-1.

[36] GAO-02-3.

[37] We have described an effective security program as including, at a 
minimum, (1) assigning responsibility for security, (2) assessing 
security risks and vulnerabilities and implementing both manual and 
technology-based security measures to prevent or counter these risks, 
and (3) periodically reviewing the controls to ensure their 
appropriateness. For more information, see U.S. General Accounting 
Office, Executive Guide: Information Security Management, GAO/AIMD-98-
68 (Washington, D.C.: May 1998).

[38] A firewall is a hardware or software component that protects 
computers or networks from attacks by outside network users by blocking 
and checking all incoming traffic.

[39] In security systems, a token is small device that displays a 
constantly changing identification code; smart cards may perform a 
similar function. 

[40] GAO-02-3.

[41] GAO-02-3. Confidence intervals were calculated at the 95 percent 
confidence level. Unless otherwise noted, all estimates from GAO's mail 
survey have a confidence interval of plus or minus 4 percentage points 
or less; all estimates from GAO's telephone survey have a confidence 
interval of plus or minus 11 percentage points or less.

[42] DREs do not allow overvotes, so the figure for overvotes does not 
include jurisdictions that used DREs.

[43] GAO-02-3. 

[44] GAO-02-3.

[45] Cost estimates include capital costs only.

[46] Systems are all those intended for preparing the voting system for 
use in an election; producing the appropriate ballot formats; testing 
that the voting system and ballot materials have been properly prepared 
and are ready for use; recording and counting votes; consolidating and 
reporting results; displaying results on site or remotely; and 
maintaining and producing audit trail information.

[47] Prevoting operations include ballot preparation; the preparation 
of election-specific software or firmware; the production of ballots or 
ballot pages; the installation of ballots and ballot counting software 
or firmware; and system and equipment tests.

[48] Voting operations include all operations conducted at the polling 
place by voters and officials, including the generation of status 

[49] Postvoting operations include closing the polling place; obtaining 
reports by voting machine, polling place, and precinct (for central-
count systems); obtaining consolidated reports; and obtaining reports 
of audit trails.

[50] States and local jurisdictions may use the standards to baseline 
the minimum functional and performance requirements but may also impose 
other requirements to meet their needs (such as the type and number of 
languages that equipment should support, how a ballot needs to appear 
on a DRE screen, or options that allow persons with various types of 
disabilities to vote).

[51] As of April 2004, the District of Columbia and 42 out of 50 states 
have regulations that require voting systems to meet federal standards, 
according to the Election Reform Information Project of the University 
of Richmond.

[52] However, because the standards were not published until 1990 and 
the qualification testing program was not established until 1994, we 
judged in 2001 that many jurisdictions were probably using voting 
equipment that did not undergo qualification testing.

[53] GAO-02-3.

[54] Some system changes may be feasible, such as connecting DREs to