Explainer: U.S. midterm elections: How America casts and counts its votes

Nov 2 (Reuters) – Online misinformation and false claims of election fraud by former President Donald Trump and his allies have severely eroded public confidence in the integrity of US elections. How Americans vote—and the equipment they use—varies widely, and some methods are more vulnerable to efforts to shape that trust.

Election experts say the move in most states to hybrid voting systems — paper ballots covered by electronic machines — could give voters more confidence in the midterm elections.


The United States invested heavily in paperless electronic voting machines after the presidential election contested by Democrat Al Gore against Republican George W. Bush in 2000 shook election officials’ confidence in paper ballots.

By 2006, the proportion of registered voters using paperless machines had risen, although hand-marked paper ballots later scanned at electronic tables were the most popular. In the last ten years, about a third of all votes were cast on electronic direct recording machines.

These electronic voting machines store the votes in their memories. Because of the lack of physical records to support an electronic vote, election officials must be confident that the machines do not malfunction and that a vote is not altered or lost, that poll workers do not inadvertently change votes , or the machines are not hacked, said Douglas Jones. , a retired University of Iowa computer science professor who spent years studying the use of computers in elections.

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In 2016 about 22% of registered voters lived in jurisdictions that used electronic voting machines without paper trails, according to data from Verified Voting, a US nonprofit that promotes the use of secure technology in election administration.

By 2020, less than 9% of registered voters nationwide lived in jurisdictions that used electronic voting machines without paper trails for each voter – the lowest number since data were first made available in 2006. The This change is the growing concern of election officials about foreign interference in elections. and the need for some way to audit scores.

For the November mid-terms, that number is expected to drop to around 5%, according to data from Verified Voting.

Counties in six states still use paperless voting machines. Most are in Republican or Democratic congressional districts, reducing the likelihood of a contested election.

However, there are at least six congressional districts that are considered competitive and are using electronic voting machines without paper records: New Jersey’s 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 7th districts; Indiana District 1; and the 15th District of Texas.


The United States, like many countries, mostly uses paper ballots to vote. Nearly 70% of registered voters live in jurisdictions that primarily use hand-marked paper ballots, according to data from Verified Voting.

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About 23% of registered voters live in jurisdictions that primarily use machines known as ballot marking devices. These allow voters to make their choices electronically and also produce a paper record that can be scanned by another device.

The extent to which voters use digital technology to cast their ballots has changed over time. Paperless electronic voting, cited for its ability to count votes quickly and accurately, has seen a sharp decline in popularity in the United States and European countries since the mid-2000s.

Countries have turned to paper as the most secure way to audit their elections and to interfere with possible votes. To be sure, machines are still an integral part of the electoral process even when votes are cast on paper ballots. Optical scanning tables count the results.

Election experts say paper ballots help secure elections because they allow voters to verify how they voted and officials to cross-check results in post-election audits.

Georgia demonstrates the importance of having a paper voting trail. The state had been using paperless voting machines for several years. But just before the 2020 presidential election, he replaced his equipment with ballot marking devices, the machines where voters make their selections electronically and can then review them on a printed paper ballot, scan it and tabulate it with another machine .

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Trump disputed the results and falsely claims there were widespread irregularities and fraud in states he lost to Democratic opponent Joe Biden. Because there were paper ballots, however, election officials in Georgia were able to count the votes by hand and declare that Biden had won the state.


The push towards paper does not mean that machines are disappearing from polling places. Almost all of them still use machines to tabulate the paper ballots. Trump and his allies falsely claim that tables were manipulated in some 2020 races to shift votes from Trump to Biden.

They are pushing for the machines to be scrapped entirely and the ballots to be counted by hand, which election officials say is not logically possible. The claims have been thoroughly investigated and debunked.

Still, claims of election fraud have fueled widespread distrust in elections, and an ABC/Ipsos poll in January found that only about 20% of the American public has a lot of confidence in the electoral system.

Reporting By Matt Zdun; edited by Ross Colvin, Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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