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Vote counting systems

From Academic Kids

There exist various methods through which the ballots cast at an election may be counted, prior to applying a voting system to obtain one or more winners.

  • Manual counting: In some jurisdictions, the ballots are counted manually, either by permanent or temporary state employees. Counting may be supervised by scrutineers, appointed by the candidates.
    • Positive points: When the possible choices on the ballot are simple (a yes/no answer to a referendum, a simple choice in a variety of candidates or lists), the counting is simple and fast.
      • There is no need to move the ballots between the polling station and a counting station; votes may be counted on the spot, thus reducing the risk of losses and tampering.
      • It is sufficient to have a limited number of volunteers per voting precinct, and the system scales up well to any size of consistuency or country.
      • The process may be understood and witnessed by any voter.
      • If a result is challenged, paper ballots can be readily recounted.
    • Negative points: This method is less efficient when the choices on the ballot are complex (possibility of removing names from a list etc...).
      • It scales up badly when several questions are asked on the same ballot; however, a large ballot can surely always be split onto several sub-ballots, each on a different coloured paper.
      • In Australia, even the ballot boxes and polling booths are made of cardboard, which can be pulped after use, leaving nothing to store between elections.
  • Electromechanical counting: Ballots, typically punch cards, are collected and fed into a voting machine which counts them.
    • Positive points: The system scales well with any number of simultaneous votes.
    • Negative points: Those machines are costly and difficult to maintain and store; as a consequence, there may be fewer machines than polling stations, requiring the movement of ballots from polling stations to counting offices.
      • This may result in losses, or may allow tampering.
      • The number of polling stations may have to be reduced, thus making it difficult for voters to reach them because of transportation constraints.
      • The vote counts are unreliable and such machines were responsible for the fiasco of the election of the Floridan electors in the U.S. presidential election of 2000.
      • Some kinds of machine leave no "Paper trail" and do not allow for any "recount".
  • Optical scan counting: Voters mark their choices on a paper ballot and feed the ballot into a voting machine which counts the votes, before dropping the ballot into a locked box.
    • Positive points:
      • The system scales well with any number of simultaneous votes.
      • Scales well when several questions are asked on the same ballot.
      • The original ballots are retained in case a recount is needed.
      • Results are avialble immediately after the election closes.
    • Negative points:
      • More costly than some other methods.
      • Paper ballots are not easily used by blind people.
  • Direct electronic counting: Voters input their vote directly into a voting machine.
    • Positive points: The system scales well with any number of simultaneous votes.
    • Negative points: Those machines are costly; cost considerations may result in a limited number of machines being installed, leading to polling stations away from voters and waiting lines.
      • The machines generally operate as "black boxes", their internal workings only understood by their designers; this would warrant strict technical oversight from impartial authorities, which is not always available or practiced.
      • The internal working of the machines may be "copyright" and not available to outside scrutiny.

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