Champaign County Illinois, USA uses a pair of ES&S machines to prepare and count (plus physically store) the ballots. Use of the ballot preparation machine is optional—one can fill in the bubbles manually with a pen or pencil. This first machine can also (at the voter’s option) scan a completed ballot and report to the voter how it read the ballot, informing the voter of their vote as well as any mistakes such as voting for too many or too few candidates in a race. But all voters must feed their voter-verified paper ballot into the counting+storage machine. I despise the use of the counting machine.
I also despise that both of these machines run on proprietary software; citizens in Urbana, Illinois are fighting for instant runoff voting (IRV) for local elections. You should help them in their fight. IRV requires voters to rank the candidates instead of voting for one candidate; if the voter’s first choice doesn’t win, the vote rolls over to the second choice, and on down the line. With IRV, voters don’t need to fear that they’re “throwing their vote away” on an unpopular candidate who supports their political goals. IRV is a great step to increasing participation in elections both for broadening the candidate pool and encouraging voting.
Unfortunately there are dark clouds in the forecast: If Urbana and Champaign County stick with computer vote counting, they’ll have to convince the proprietor (ES&S) to change the vote-counting software to work with instant runoff voting. This is one reason I endorse the use of free software, software that respects a user’s freedom to run, share, and modify programs. Urbana ought to have the freedom to get whomever they want to alter the software to support IRV. Urbana can pay to send their modified software through the government-required approval process and then use the software in citywide elections.
The silver lining in this cloud is the Champaign County Clerk, Mark Shelden: When I was part of the recommendation committee that evaluated electronic voting machines for Champaign County, I discussed this issue with Mark Shelden and he agrees that a free software voting machine is preferable. Free software voting systems also mean jobs for our community: Champaign County could become a hub of voting software development. We didn’t have any such machines to choose from back then, and ES&S was not interested in selling us a license to their software under a free software license. But as more people evaluate voting machines and find serious problems with them, I think this position will change.