Ballot Bulletin: Hand Counting Ballots vs. Machine Counting Ballots
This summer LWVWI launched an educational series highlighting various election security topics so we are all better informed about the processes in place to ensure our elections are fair, accessible, and secure. This week we are highlighting hand-counting vs. machine-counting ballots.
Ballot counting machines (known as tabulators) improve election administration in three main ways: accuracy, trustworthiness, and efficiency.
Humans are better than machines at many tasks, but people are not good at highly repetitive tasks that require extreme accuracy. When people review thousands of ballots, they are likely to become tired and make mistakes, such as losing track of their counts.
In contrast, tabulator machines are excellent at counting– that’s exactly what they’re made for! Data shows that tabulator machines are significantly more accurate than hand counting the same ballots.
Ballot counting machines are proven to produce faster, more accurate election results. Hand counts of ballots, especially with multiple races, can take weeks to complete. By contrast, the speed and accuracy of tabulators, and thus election results, help bolster voter confidence.
As we face a shortage of election workers state and nationwide, obtaining the necessary staff required to complete a hand count would be a significant barrier.
Recounting a single statewide election is one thing, but hand-counting the entire ballot requires a cumbersome procedure. When multiple races are being counted, election workers use a much more complex “read and mark” procedure. This requires workers to call out each race and keep tallies.
The Importance of Post-election Audits
After November elections, election officials conduct checks of the voting equipment, called post-election equipment audits, to ensure the machines accurately recorded and counted votes. Election officials would detect any tampering or unauthorized use of the machines, and then quickly launch an investigation.
In addition to these benefits, consistent testing helps our officials find potential vulnerabilities in the equipment and implement new security improvements and updates. And, this whole process is open to the public! You can check out the accuracy of the equipment and the results yourself during these tests.