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 sharply eroded public confidence in the integrity of U.S. elections. The way Americans vote — and the tools they use — varies widely, and some methods are more vulnerable to efforts to shake that trust.

Election experts say hybrid voting systems in many states — paper ballots counted by electronic machines — could give voters more confidence in midterm elections.

Electronic voting machines

In 2000, Republican George W. After the presidential election in which Democrat Al Gore ran against Bush, the United States invested heavily in paperless electronic voting machines.

By 2006, the share of registered voters using paperless machines had risen, but later hand-marked paper ballots scanned by electronic tabulators became more popular. For the next decade, about a third of all votes were cast on direct recording electronic machines.

These electronic voting machines store the votes in their memories. Douglas Jones said the lack of a physical record to back up an electronic vote means election officials need to trust that machines won’t malfunction, a vote won’t be altered, a poll won’t be lost, voters won’t inadvertently alter their ballots and machines won’t be hacked. , a retired computer science professor at the University of Iowa, spent decades studying the use of computers in elections.

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About 22% of registered voters in 2016 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.

As of 2020, fewer than 9% of registered voters nationwide lived in jurisdictions that used electronic voting machines without paper trails for all voters — the smallest number since data were first collected in 2006. The shift reflects growing concerns among election officials about foreign interference in elections. and the need to have some way of auditing values.

That number is expected to drop to 5% for the November midterms, according to verified polling data.

Six states still use paperless voting machines. Most are in Republican or Democratic congressional districts, making a competitive election less likely.

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

Paper ballots

The United States, like most countries, often uses paper ballots for voting. Nearly 70% of registered voters live in jurisdictions that primarily use hand-marked paper ballots, according to verified voter turnout data.

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

The extent to which voters use digital technology to cast their ballots has changed over time. Paperless electronic voting, due to its ability to quickly and accurately count votes, has largely waned 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 detect potential vote tampering. Of course, even when voting is done on paper ballots, machines are still integral to the election process. The optical scan tabulator calculates the results.

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

Georgia demonstrates the importance of having a paper ballot. The government has been using paperless voting machines for several years. But just before the 2020 presidential election, it will replace its equipment with ballot-marking devices with machines where voters can electronically make selections and review them on a printed paper ballot, which is then scanned and tabulated by another machine.

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Trump challenged the results and falsely claimed widespread irregularities and fraud in states where Democratic rival Joe Biden lost. However, because paper ballots were available, Georgia election officials were able to count the votes by hand and confirm that Biden had indeed won the state.

Voting tabulation systems

The push toward paper doesn’t mean machines will disappear from polling stations. Almost everyone still uses machines to tabulate paper ballots. Trump and his allies falsely claim that some tabulators in the 2020 races were manipulated to swing votes from Trump to Biden.

They are pushing for machines to be scrapped entirely and votes to be counted manually, which election officials say is logistically impossible. Claims thoroughly investigated and debunked.

However, claims of election fraud have sown widespread mistrust of elections, with an ABC/Ipsos poll in January showing that only 20% of the American public has strong confidence in the electoral system.

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

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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