Electronic vs. Ballot Voting

Whenever a major election is upcoming, one of the conversations election officials have is whether there are any changes to make to the system. In recent years, there has been minimal changes to the overall voting system. Most of the changes have taken place at the polling stations, making them more accessible, or providing additional translation options in communities where English is not the primary language. In an attempt to make voting more accessible, some states have pushed electronic voting machines, while other locations continue to use traditional paper ballots.

There are also some states which use a mixture of both systems. These states have electronic voting systems, but the systems produce a paper ballot. The paper ballot is turned in, being tallied at a later date to determine the winner. When considering whether to make changes to the system, there are several pros and cons to consider.

Electronic Voting Advantages

Electronic voting refers to two devices. The first is the electronic voting machine, which is where voters cast their vote, typically using a touch screen. The other type of electronic voting has to do with how the votes are tallied, using a scanner to read the results instead of tallying the votes by hand. Advocates for electronic voting often praise the expediency of the system compared to paper voting.

With electronic systems, there is no need to collect and sort the ballots from a polling station. It often takes several days to tally paper ballots, while electronic systems produce much quicker results. In addition, electronic votes do not have the same storage requirements as paper ballots. This means fewer officials are needed for each election. Selecting a location to serve as election headquarters is also easier, since officials do not need as much dedicated storage space for the ballots. This also makes electronic voting more cost effective than voting with paper ballots.

Another advantage of electronic voting is accessibility. There are some voters who struggle with paper ballots due to a disability, but these voters do not have any problems using a touchscreen. As a result, electronic voting advocates argue electronic voting increases voter turnout, arguing voters are less intimidated by an electronic system.

Electronic voting is normally faster than casting a paper ballot. Advocates believe less space is needed for electronic voting as well, so it is easier to set up polling locations. Since the voting process takes less time, it also allows voters with limited time due to work or family obligations to make it out to the poll and cast a vote.

Electronic Voting Disadvantages

Electronic voting has few disadvantages. However, the disadvantages that do exist are serious flaws. The biggest criticism of electronic voting is security. Electronic devices are vulnerable to hacking. Every year, cybersecurity issues weigh in on the subject. In some tests, it only takes a few hours to break into an electronic voting system.

This vulnerability is the reason why so many states use a hybrid system, letting voters use an electronic system, but having the system produce a physical ballot. It is also the reason why no state has tried to implement an online voting system. In a perfect world, online voting would be the standard. It would greatly increase voter turnout, since voters would not have to wait in line at a polling station. Several companies have floated the idea of creating a secure database where voters could cast an online ballot, but as of writing, no company has been able to make a safe system.

Another potential risk with electronic voting system is the manufacturer. Voters are afraid whoever manufactures the voting system will access user information. These companies may not be committing voter fraud, but critics fear the companies will collect personal information, such as the names, addresses or phone numbers of voters. This risk is somewhat mitigated by the government producing electronic voting systems, but in many cases, private companies are contracted with designing the machines.

A more practical argument comes down to the cost. In the long term, electronic voting saves money. The machines can be reused and less space and employees are required at the polling stations. However, there is a larger upfront cost to purchase and install the equipment in polling station. There are also future maintenance costs to consider.

Another risk with electronic voting is the equipment breaking down. Millions of voters turn out during an election. Even the largest polling stations will only have a limited number of devices available. If even one or two devices breaks down, it causes chaos. Depending on the nature of the breakdown, it can become an even worse problem. Any voters who previously used the machine may no longer have their ballot counted. In extreme cases, the polling station may have to close down entirely for maintenance.

Looking to the Future

It is difficult to predict what the future of voting will look like. For many years, electronic voting was growing in use, with many believing electronic systems would become the norm. As time went on, more experts weighed in on the potential security flaws of electronic voting, as well as the high installation costs. More states are pushing for electronic voting systems, while also advocating for a system which creates a paper trail to prevent voter fraud.

Due to unforeseen difficulties caused by Covid-19, more states are looking at using paper ballots in the 2020 election. This is largely due to an increase in voters applying for absentee ballots, with some states even debating whether to allow all voters to cast a paper ballot through the mail instead of showing up to a polling station.