When voters use electronic systems to cast their votes, this is known as electronic voting or e-voting. A number of electronic voting systems are used worldwide, from optical scanners which read manually marked ballots to entirely electronic touchscreen voting systems. Supporters of electronic voting systems believe that these systems are more accurate and efficient than traditional paper ballots, while critics are concerned about the security of e-voting. Some critics actually support electronic voting on principle, but they want to see the development of better systems which protect the rights of voters.
For citizens, voting is a relatively straightforward process. A citizen marks a ballot to indicate his or her preferences and then turns the ballot in to a voting official. Voting officials must carefully control their ballots to ensure that they are not spoiled or damaged, and then they must quickly and accurately tally the votes collected. Electronic voting systems are designed to make things easier for election officials by collecting and processing votes so that election results can be obtained instantaneously.
Many communities in the United States are converting to electronic voting to comply with legal mandates. Electronic voting is supposed to be easier for voters with disabilities, and entirely electronic systems like touchscreens can be programmed to display information in different languages, or to deliver voting choices in audio for visually impaired voters. Many of these mandates are also designed to streamline the voting process in the hopes of preventing disenfranchisement.
Using electronic voting machines is usually easy for voters. In the case of an optical scanning system, a voter is given a paper ballot to fill out, along with a special marking pen. After filling out the ballot, the voter feeds it into an optical scanning machine which reads and tallies the marks. A touchscreen voting system presents voting choices on a screen which the voter can touch to register preferences.
There are some serious flaws involved in electronic voting. Many of these machines do not have a paper trail, for example. This makes it difficult for voters to verify that their votes were registered correctly, making voting precincts vulnerable to fraud. Electronic voting also has variable error rates, and it can be difficult to obtain information about voting machines from their manufacturers, since these companies want to retain proprietary secrets to protect their share of the market. Critics of these systems hope that these flaws can be addressed to make electronic voting safe, secure, and reliable.