Why this article is helpful
- Discusses the causes of incorrectly counted votes by paper ballot scanner
- Provides suggestions for proper ballot design and election day procedures to help prevent miscount errors
The causes for miscounted ballots are reviewed in connection to an incident of 16 miscounted ballots in an election in Stoughton, Wisconsin. Most of the usual causes of miscounted votes were ruled out, including poor ballot design and flaws in the paper, leading to conclusion that the system had scanned a bit of dirt or dust that made it’s way into the optical scan system. The author reviews several methods for avoiding miscounted ballots, including ballot design suggestions and Election Day procedures.
Causes for Extraneous Marks on Ballot Paper
- Some pens/markers high tendency to bleed through the paper, especially with thinner stock ballot paper.
- Globs of ballpoint pen ink can dry slowly and could potentially transfer onto other ballots from paper rollers.
- Despite pens provided by the polling place, some voters will inevitably use their own pens/markers.
- Ballot paper could potentially have colored flecks in it (common occurrence in paper) which may register as a mark.
- Dust or paper lint in the voting machine may be scanned and interpreted as a mark.
Ballot Design Suggestions
- Design the ballot so that ballot marks do not align with the location of the paper rollers in the voting machine. Rollers are generally about 1/2” wide, with 3-5 rollers space out across the width of the ballot. Ballot design should allow for marks to fall between these rollers to avoid ink transfer from other ballots.
- Avoid the use of double-sided ballot if possible.
- Use thicker paper stock to reduce bleed through.
- When a two-sided ballot is necessary, ensure that the circles intended for marking do not line up on both sides. When looking through both sides of the ballot (when held up to a window or other light source), ensure that the circles for marking are at a minimum of 1/8” apart from each other, though a distance of 1/4″ or greater is ideal.
Election Day Procedures/Suggestions
- Run all ballot paper through machines before Election Day to ensure that no blank ballot registers as marked.
- Have a technician clean/dust the interior of the voting machine prior to the start of the election to remove any dirt or dust.
- Train poll workers to use cans of compressed air to clean the machine every few hours in order to remove dust or paper lint.
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