SciTech

How Things Work: Electronic Voting Machines

Tomorrow, voters across the country will cast their ballots and decide which political candidates will take which offices. But things will be a little different this year for the area’s voters: They will be using new electronic touchscreen devices. Electronic voting machines are steadily replacing traditional paper and mechanical ballots across the country.

Most of these voting devices are technically described as Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines because they store votes electronically. DRE machines are different from some other electronic voting machines which have electronic interfaces but do not record data electronically.

Allegheny County has selected Electronic Systems & Software, Inc., as the vendor for the county’s new electronic voting machines. The company is the creator of the iVotronic machine.

The iVotronic electronic voting machine has a full-color touchscreen that serves as the primary interface between the voter and the machine. The machine is designed for universal accessibility. For the visually disabled, it features buttons with Braille instructions and headphone support as an alternative to the touchscreen.

A “Vote” button above the screen allows the voter to finalize and cast the ballot.

The electronic voting machine is activated by a device called a Ballot Activator Cartridge (BAC). The BAC is inserted into the BAC slot located right beside the electronic screen by a poll worker. Activation by a poll worker makes it more difficult for the voter to vote more than once.

The BAC communicates with the electronic voting machine once it is plugged into the slot. The appropriate ballot for the voter is downloaded from the BAC to the electronic voting machine. When the initial screen is loaded, the BAC is removed and the voter is instructed to follow the on-screen directions.

Instructions on how to navigate the voting screen are displayed to the voter. The navigation is based on buttons on the touchscreen.

The first button the voter presses is the “View Ballot” button, which loads the electronic ballot. A voter then decides by pressing a button if he or she wants to vote “down the ticket” for a particular political party or split the ballot.

If a voter decides to split his or her ballot, he or she is given a list of candidates. The voter then touches the candidate or proposition to be selected. When a candidate or proposition is selected, a check mark appears to its left to provide visual confirmation. The voter may also select to write in a vote. By selecting the “Write-In” button, a keyboard appears on the screen. The voter can then type in a name.

A “Next” button and a “Back” button are displayed on applicable screens so the voter can move forward and back between pages. When the voter reaches the last selection page, a “Review” button prompts the voter to continue to the summary screen, where changes can be made. From the summary screen, the voter may either make changes or cast the ballot with the use of an on-screen button or the “Vote” button above the screen.

If the voter chooses to cast the ballot, another screen is displayed asking the voter to confirm his or her choice. The voter must press the “Confirm” button, or else the vote does not count. If the voter does confirm the ballot, the machine then saves the vote to three internal flash memory chips.

At the end of an election, the electronic voting machine is closed with the BAC and a supervisor password. During the closing process, summary vote data from the machine are transmitted to the BAC. The vote data are also written to a CompactFlash card.

A printer pack may be used to print the result summary data or to transmit the data via a built-in modem.
The BAC, any printed data, and the CompactFlash card are brought to a central location for tabulation, where an electronic vote tabulator calculates the results.

But for machines in Pennsylvania, it is currently against state law to print out a voter’s results; voter information will exist in electronic form only.