Why getting voting right is hard, Part III: Optical Scan

This is the third post in my series on voting systems. For background see part I. As described in part II hand-counted paper ballots have a number of attractive security and privacy properties but scale badly to large elections. Fortunately we can count paper ballots efficiently using optical scanners opscan. This will be familiar to anyone who has taken paper-based standardized tests instead of just checking a box next to each choice there is a region typically an oval to fill in as shown in the examples below These ballots can then be machine read using an optical scanner which reports the result totals.

Optical scan systems come in two basic flavors 8220precinct count8221 and 8220central count8221. In a precinct count system the optical scanner is located at the precinct or polling place and the voters can feed their ballots directly into it. Sometimes the scanner will be mounted on a ballot box which collects the ballots after they are scanned. When the polls close the scanner produces a total count typically recorded on a memory card printed on a paper receipt or both. These can be sent back to election headquarters together with the ballots where they are to be aggregated.


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