California Voter Foundation Logo

Voting Technology

Verifying the Vote in 2008 Presidential Election Battleground States

By Kim Alexander, President & Founder, California Voter Foundation and
Pam Smith, President, Verified Voting Foundation
November 2, 2008

A lot has changed since the 2004 Presidential election.  Many states that initially embraced paperless, electronic voting systems have replaced those systems with paper ballots, or have added printers to electronic voting machines that produce a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) of electronic ballots. 

Paper ballots and VVPATS are important tools for verifying the vote, and many states have enacted automatic, post-election manual audit laws that require paper ballots or VVPATS be used to verify the accuracy of computer vote counts. This is accomplished by hand-counting a sample of paper ballots or VVPATs and comparing the hand-counted tallies to computer vote counts.

Manual audits of election results are important because, while most states allow candidates to request a recount, actually doing so can be expensive and politically unpopular.  Automatic manual audits of election results means those results will be verified regardless of the election outcome or whether a recount is sought.

Below is the percentage of registered voters casting ballots on paper-based, optical scan voting systems and electronic voting systems (also called direct recording electronic, or DRE systems), from 2000 to 2008:

Optical Scan:  

-- source:  Election Data Services

As the statistics above show, the use of paper-based, optical scan voting systems has steadily grown, while electronic, DRE voting systems rose up until 2006 and then declined in 2008. 

Here is a rundown of  voting systems and manual count requirements in 13 key battleground states in the 2008 presidential election:

COLORADO – some good, some bad
Most Colorado counties use a mix of paper ballots or DREs with VVPATs, but two still have paperless DREs.  A manual audit of the election results is required in Colorado (a law was passed in 2005); however, in counties using paperless DREs there are no voter-verified paper records of electronic ballots that can be used to independently verify the accuracy of the computer vote count.

FLORIDA – some good, some bad
In 2004 many Florida counties were using paperless DREs.  Now most Florida voters will cast paper ballots and a manual audit is required, but the audit itself is weak (law was passed in 2007).

GEORGIA – very bad
Georgia uses paperless DREs statewide and has no plans to conduct a manual audit.

Indiana counties use a mix of paper ballots and paperless DREs.  No manual audit is required.

Missouri moved from punch cards and paper ballots to a mix of paper ballots and DREs with VVPATs. A manual audit is required and the VVPATs on the DREs helps ensure that it will be a meaningful process (Missouri’s law was enacted in 1990).

NEVADA – good
Nevada was the first state to use DREs that produced VVPATs.  DREs with VVPATs have replaced paperless DREs in the state, and a manual audit is required (by administrative code enacted by the Secretary of State in 2006).

New Hampshire uses paper ballots.  While there is no manual audit of the vote planned, the state’s laws are make it easy for a candidate to request a recount.

NEW MEXICO – very good
New Mexico was using paperless DRE systems in 2004; these systems were replaced with paper balloting systems, and a manual audit is required (a law was passed in 2005 and took effect in 2007).

NORTH CAROLINA – very good
North Carolina moved from paperless DREs in many counties in 2004 to a mix of paper ballots and DREs with VVPATs in 2008.  A manual audit of the results will be conducted (following a law passed in 2005).

OHIO – very good
In 2004 many Ohio counties used paperless DREs and no manual audit of the results was required.  In 2008 Ohio counties are using a mix of paper ballots and DREs with VVPATs and the Secretary of State has committed to a manual audit of the election results even though one is not required by statute.

In moving away from lever voting machines, Pennsylvania counties have adopted a mix of paper ballots and paperless DRE voting systems.  Although Pennsylvania has a manual audit law (last updated in 1980), the law is somewhat meaningless since most ballots that are cast in Pennsylvania are not backed up with a voter-verified paper audit trail, so there is no independent record that can be used to verify the vote.

Virginia uses a mix of paper ballots and paperless DREs. Manual audits are conducted at the discretion of localities, are only allowed in very limited circumstances, and only after results are finalized.  The recount laws in this state are also weak (limiting election officials to review summary tapes of election results rather than actual ballots).

WEST VIRGINIA – very good
West Virginia uses a mix of paper ballots and DREs with VVPATs, and the state has had a strong manual audit law in place for several decades (and updated it in 2005).



Site Map | Privacy Policy | About

This page was first published on November 1, 2008 | Last updated on November 3, 2008
Copyright California Voter Foundation, All Rights Reserved.