Voting Hardware -- From Lever Machines to DREs
Paper ballots have been around as long as organized voting, but lever-action voting machines dominated elections in the U.S. for most of the 20th century. By the 1930s, many Americans found themselves in curtained voting booths, pulling levers to cast their ballots. Each movement of a lever would turn a wheel within the machine, notching up votes for a particular candidate or issue. Much faster than counting paper ballots!
Some voting precincts in the U.S. still use optical scanning technology to read votes off ballots much like the Scantron tests taken (and dreaded) by students. Optical technology has been around since the 1950s and 1960s, and presents disadvantages and advantages compared to punch-card systems. A verifiable paper trail is great for vote auditing, but inaccurate marks could cause the same computer tabulation errors as poorly punched cards.
Brazil has been using electronic voting machines since 1996. Their systems resemble the touch machines commonly used in the United States, but include a keypad next to the screen for input, making the systems much more affordable than touch screen machines. Other countries have their own unique voting practices. For example, in 2009, Australia decided to stop electronic voting trials due to added expense over paper ballots [source: The Age]. The U.K. is similarly hesitant to implement electronic voting systems. India, on the other hand, has embraced electronic voting by designing its own e-voting machines. In 2012, India's Election Commission ordered that new voting machines would include a paper trail for vote audits [source: The Times of India].
Next up: how various systems protect their votes.