Direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting systems

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Direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting systems utilize touch-screen terminals to record votes. A DRE is essentially a computer. Voters view ballots on a screen and make choices using an input device such as a bank of buttons or a touchscreen. Some DRE systems also employ a card swipe or cartridge system that must be activated before a ballot can be cast. Votes are stored on a memory card, compact disc or other memory device. Election officials transport these memory devices to a centralized location for tabulation, just as they would with paper-based ballots. Some machines have the capability to broadcast results over a modem-to-modem line. [1]

Introduction of DRE electronic voting into US elections

In 2002, in the United States, the Help America Vote Act mandated that one handicapped accessible voting system be provided per polling place, which most jurisdictions have chosen to satisfy with the use of DRE voting machines, some switching entirely over to DRE. In 2004, 28.9% of the registered voters in the United States used some type of direct recording electronic voting system, up from 7.7% in 1996.[2]

In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), purportedly to "upgrade" old voting systems. States received $4 billion dollars to acquire new DRE and optical scan voting machines. That same year, Georgia became the first e-voting state and also was the site of two stunning upsets, including the election of first Republican governor since 1868.

Main article: 2002 Georgia Elections

In 2004, 28.9% of the registered voters in the United States used some type of direct recording electronic voting system.[3]

HAVA also mandated that one handicapped accessible voting system be provided per polling place. Most jurisdictions have chosen to satisfy this mandate with the use of DRE voting machines.

Concerns about electronic voting

Perhaps no development is more worrisome to those who are concerned with election integrity than electronic voting. Two major problems seem inherent:

1. Lack of a tangible record. A paper ballot, for example, is a tangible physical object which can be indelibly marked. A computer byte, however, can be easily altered with no trace of its original marking. [4]

2. The possibility of fraud on a monumental scale. A single programmer can insert two lines of self-erasing code that can alter millions of ballots and the outcome of elections. [5]

In addition, a host of other problems that are, in principal soluble, remain entrenched in the system. These include:[6]

  • Lack of transparency: Current electronic voting systems do not have publicly reviewable inner workings (source code). By examining the source code, critics argue, computer scientists could determine that the program performs the intended task without error. Vendors, however, claim their source code to be proprietary knowledge and a trade secret.
  • Insufficient standards, testing and certification: voting system are typically certified to federal and or state standards that are several years old and older standards often will have gaping flaws. Implementing new standards has been a slow, cumbersome and costly process. Certification is done by for-profit laboratories accredited by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, but chosen and paid by the manufacturers.
  • Insufficient oversight: Various electronic voting companies were found to have employees who have previously been convicted of serious crimes, including felonies. A Diebold e-voting programming director was found to have criminal records for embezzlement, a crime very similar technically to election fraud. [7]

Vulnerability comparisons with other voting systems

Election fraud may occur and go undetected in systems with indelible (e.g., paper) ballots, but it is, in principle, detectable, and flagrantly egregious behavior can usually be limited through the courts and public pressure. If legal procedures are pursued or if an investigative team is dogged, fraud can be exposed and justice served. For example, the Miami Herald won a Pulitzer prize for reporting on vote buying and ballot tampering by the campaign of Xavier Suarez, who had been elected mayor of Miami the previous November. As a result, Suarez was forced to step down after 111 days in office. [8] With electronic voting systems, however, fraud may be undetectable, and those who have been declared the losers are left with no recourse to verify results. [9]

Demonstrations of electronic voting vulnerability

Multiple academics have demonstrated various serious vulnerabilities in all form of electronic voting including DREs and optical scan systems.[10] See also: Hursti voting machine hacks

Suspect DRE results

DRE and paper voting results in Snohomish county (Washington) in the 2004 general election were very different [11]

DRE use internationally

Despite growing concerns about DREs and electronic voting in the US, it has been spreading overseas (e.g, France and India) although some national governments (e.g, Ireland and the Netherlands) have shelved the machines in response to public pressure.


  • April 22, 2007 : amidst controversies, 1.5M citizens voted via e-voting for the 1st round of the Presidential elections. A few cities abandoned them for the 2nd round, but partly because of the time lost in explanations (record turnout).
  • July 8, 2008 : the Observatoire du Vote (Paris - Brussels) published a survey on electronic voting in France between 2007 and 2008 [12] (sample : 46 cities, 21,000 logs) : the difference between the number of votes and the number of signatures is 6% for traditional ballots and 30% with electronic vote. And this proportion tends to decrease for normal ballots, not for e-vote.


  • May 2004 : e-voting was used in the general election where an estimated 380 million people voted. [13]


  • in 2004, the country had just received delivery of DREs, but when scientists and statisticians presented evidence of both the possibility of fraud using such machines, the scale of public condemnation rose to such a level that the machines (50M Euro worth) were immediately banned in the entire Republic, and put into indefinite storage. Elections are still tallied manually there. [14]


  • in May 2008, the Government banned e-voting for fear of eavesdropping

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Jonathan Strickland and Kevin Bonsor, How E-voting Works, How Stuff Works .
  2. U.S. Federal Election Commission: Direct Recording Electronic - information page
  3. U.S. Federal Election Commission: Direct Recording Electronic - information page
  4. George V. Hulme with Elena Malykhina, Information Week E-Voting Systems Face Security Questions: Critics say electronic systems are insecure, unreliable, and subject to tampering, February 9, 2004.
  5. David Dill It's Time to Outlaw Paperless Electronic Voting in the U.S., Huffington Post, April 29, 2007
  6. Steven F. Freeman and Joel Bleifuss, Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count(New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006) Chapter 3. Electronic Voting: An Invitation for Fraud.
  7. Bev Harris, Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century (Renton, WA: Talion Publishing, 2003)
  8. Evan Shapiro, Feed Daily Column, Feed Magazine, Nov. 8, 2000.
  9. David Dill It's Time to Outlaw Paperless Electronic Voting in the U.S., Huffington Post, April 29, 2007
  10. Princeton Report on Diebold vulnerability
  11. Paul R. Lehto, Jeffrey Hoffman Evidence of Election Irregularities in Snohomish County Washington General election, 2004
  12. Observatoire du vote
  13. The Jang Group International News, India elections: Vote counting starts, May 13, 2004.
  14. David Edelman, Electronic Voting in the Republic of Ireland, May 31, 2007.

External resources




  • Hacking Democracy (HBO, 2006)

External articles