As the days until the presidential election siphon down, most of Wisconsin will soon rely on optical-scanner machines to accurately count ballots cast Nov. 2.
The optical technology works much like Scantron machines utilized by schools across the country. Voters use either a number-two pencil on a paper ballot to complete an oval or a marker to connect an arrow by a candidate’s name. People then feed the sheet into the machines, which reject incomplete or incorrectly filled ballots.
With memories of the 2000 Florida voting fiasco still looming, some see the optical scanners as a safety net in case of a recount.
“The beauty of the optical scanner is that it provides an electronic vote tally and a paper trail back up,” Jay Heck, executive director of the non-partisan reform advocacy group Common Cause in Wisconsin, said.
Besides the ability to recover ballots for a hand count, Kevin Kennedy, executive director of the State Elections Board, said most errors in the optical scanners are easily corrected. He pinpointed paper defects or the wrong writing utensil as the most common problems.
Wisconsin joins 43 states in which at least one jurisdiction employs optical scan voting equipment. Three other battleground states — Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida — will use some optical scan and electronic machines in addition to the older lever and punch card voting systems.
Although Florida launched its 15-day voting cycle without punchcard machines and ballot papers, brief computer connection crashes in the replacement electronic touch-screen technology and incomplete absentee ballots caused problems.
Heck said there has been no evidence of similar malfunctions in Wisconsin.
“Wisconsin voters are in a fortunate position,” Heck said. “It’s not the same if you’re a voter in Florida — you go to the polls with doubts whether your vote will be counted.”
Kennedy expressed concern over the municipalities in the Badger State that will use electronic technology without a paper trail of votes. He said those machines have no way of proving the real voting numbers in case of a malfunction.
However, Kennedy said he sees the appeal in these older methods.
“People like them because they give them a sense of privacy,” he said. “A curtain closes behind you, and it gives you a real sense of participation in the process.”
The municipality of Peshtigo, however, will use a newer technology, AVC Advantage Direct Recording Electronic voting machines, which use buttons instead of a touch screen, but do not use paper ballots.
“We have an elderly community and it’s easier for them to press a button on a machine than hold a writing instrument,” Mary Ann Wills, City Clerk Treasurer of Peshtigo, said.
Despite the convenience AVC machines present to older people, Kennedy said the electronic technology’s inability to recover ballots is a potential problem.
Some UW students agreed.
“After 2000, you’d think this issue would never come up again,” UW senior Dan Sosnay said. “If we can get receipts at the supermarket, why can’t we get receipts [for] this election?”