Voting Machines

Americans vote using a wide variety of machines:

  • Mechanical voting machines: Voters flip switches to choose candidates and then pull a lever to finalize their vote.
  • Punch-card machines: Voters mark their choices on a card using a pencil and then deposit their cards into a machine, which then tallies the vote based on the card’s holes.
  • Touch-screen machines: Similar to ATMs, these increasingly popular machines “read” the voters’ choices.

But these methods have serious problems. Mechanical voting machines frequently break down, but many of the companies that made the machines have gone out of business. Punch-card machines are fallible because punching does not always create a complete hole (leading to debates about hanging and pregnant chads, as in the 2000 presidential elections). Many computer security experts see touch-screen voting as dangerously insecure. Others point out that most touch-screen machines leave no paper documents, a huge problem in cases of recounts.

Absentee Ballots

Traditionally, people vote by filling out a ballot at their local polling precinct or voting center. But some voters, such as college students or people serving in the military, cannot get to their polling place to vote. The states allow these voters to use absentee ballots. Absentee voters usually receive their ballots in the mail several weeks before the election, fill them out, and mail them back to state election officials.

Voting by Mail

Usually states have provided absentee ballots to those who had good reasons for not being able to go their polling place. In recent years, though, some states have made it easy for anyone to vote by mail, in an effort to encourage voting. In 2000, for example, Oregon allowed all voters in the presidential election to mail in their ballots. Voter participation surpassed 80 percent, a remarkable number. Due to this success, Oregon has completely abandoned precinct voting.

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