I would like a clarification about how the system works, because I always thought that votes cast in electronic machines a) left a paper trail and b) were always manually verified.

My idea was that electronic voting machines would be useful for several reason:

  • Fast "first count" of votes in election day.
  • Less confusion (e.g. "butterfly ballots") for the voters and less void votes.
  • Less chance of unintentional void votes (e.g. people putting two ballots in the envelope, or ballots improperly filled)
  • Easier for handicapped people (e.g. would allow to connect headphones for blind people)
  • Signal possible issues with the process (e.g. if the machine computed results differ significantly from the manually computed results).

But after reading about some claims (which are off-topic for this question), there is a request for a manual recount of several countries with electronic polling stations, and from what I read it sounds like electronic voting results were not manually verified in the first place.

Am I right or wrong? Are machine results always verified manually or not?

  • 3
    Not all electronic voting machines have a paper trail.
    – user1530
    Nov 24, 2016 at 9:37

1 Answer 1


Like everything else with elections, this varies state-by-state. This page has a list of what kind of machine each state uses (more detailed and up-to-date map here), but there are effectively five kinds:

  • Optical Scan - Just like standardized testing: Voter marks the ballot, then a machine scans it and counts it.
  • Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) - Voter enters their vote directly on the machine, and the machine records it. There's two broad subtypes here:
    • Voter Verified Paper Trail - Some DREs print out a paper receipt which the voter can visually confirm is correct (or void if not).
    • No paper trail - Other DREs provide no confirmation. The only record is in the machine's memory.
  • Ballot Marking Devices - Voter enters their vote directly on the machine, and the machine generates a physical ballot which is the actual vote.
  • Punch Card - Voter punches holes in a card, which then is scanned by a machine or hand-counted.

No state that I'm aware of does not use the auto-calculated totals for reporting the results from the state. However, 29 states (plus D.C.) require a post-election audit of some portion of the vote, to verify that the results seem accurate. For the most part, these audits are hand counts.

Obviously, there's no way to hand recount a DRE with no paper trail. Unfortunately, there are five states that used this type of machine exclusively this year, and another ten that used it in part (usually a large part). At least in Pennsylvania, officials don't consider this to be much of a problem because there's no centralized electronic counting - to broadly affect the election, you'd have to physically hack each machine in question. There's still no way to verify the results, though.

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