Lynn Landes 
 The Landes Report ...

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Here's something to think about. Why is Common Cause and the ACLU of Southern California in favor of DREs with no printer attachment, when it is the technology with one of the worst track records?


(page 20)

How Much Does Voting Equipment Contribute to Lost Votes?

Residual Votes and Lost Votes

Residual votes—the number of uncounted, unmarked, and spoiled ballots—provide a yardstick for measuring the effect of different machine types on the incidence of lost votes. BALLOTS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE RESIDUAL VOTES 

RESIDUAL VOTES = Uncounted ballots + Unmarked ballots + "Overvoted ballots"

Over the past four presidential elections, the rate of residual votes in presidential elections was slightly over two percent. This means that in a typical presi-dential election over two million voters did not have a presidential vote recorded for their ballots. The presidential race is the "top of the ticket." The rate of residual votes is even higher down the ballot—five percent for Senate and gubernatorial elections. In other words, almost five million votes are not recorded for other prominent statewide offices.

(page 21)

A ballot may show no vote because the machine failed to record the voter’s preferences, because the voter made a mistake or was confused, or because the voter did not wish to vote for that office. The first two reasons would mean lost votes. The third would not be a lost vote, but would be a correct recording of the voter’s preferences. It is difficult to judge intentions, but exit polls suggest approximately thirty percent of residual votes are intentional. This implies that 1.5 million presidential votes are lost each election; 3.5 million votes for governor and senator are lost each cycle. 

A more conservative measure of the number of votes lost due to equipment is the number of ballots for which voters chose more than one candidate—an overvote. We focus on residual votes because the distinction of overvotes from other kinds of errors is a false one.

Technology can enable or interfere with voting in many ways. Lost votes are not just a matter of preventing someone from accidentally voting twice. Vote loss can happen because of machine failures. Vote loss also happens because ballot designs or user interfaces confuse voters or even obscure how to vote. Ballot and user interface design is perhaps the most important cause of vote loss, and different types of technology rely on specific types of ballots and user interfaces.

Whatever the cause, the residual vote rate should not depend on what equipment is used. But it does.

The Relationship between Voting Equipment and Residual Votes

A simple table reveals the extent to which equipment affects the number of votes lost. Table 1 presents the residual votes in presidential elections and in Senate and gubernatorial elections as a percent of all ballots cast over the past decade.

Table 1

RESIDUAL VOTES = Uncounted ballots + Unmarked ballots + "Overvoted ballots")
**this table has been rearranged by Lynn Landes of to demonstrate more readily which systems perform the best) 

Machine Type

% votes lost

Governor & Senator 
% votes lost

% of votes lost on average

Optical Scan




Paper Ballot 
(hand counted)




Punch Card




Electronic (DRE)




Lever Machine




The figures in Table 1 reveal a striking pattern. Some technologies consistently perform well on average, and some technologies have excessively high rates of residual votes. In particular, paper ballot systems tend to show lower residual votes than lever machines and electronic machines. To the extent that there is an exception to this pattern it arises with punch cards.

Optically scanned paper and hand-counted paper ballots have consistently shown the best average performance. Scanners have the lowest rate of uncounted, unmarked, and spoiled ballots in presidential races and in Senate and gubernatorial races. Counties using optical scanning have averaged a residual vote rate of 1.5 percent in presidential elections and 3.5 percent in Senate and gubernatorial elections over the past twelve years. Hand-counted paper has shown similarly low residual vote rates.

Punch cards, the other paper based system, lose at least 50 percent more votes than optically scanned paper ballots. Punch cards have averaged a residual vote rate of 2.5 percent in presidential elections and 4.7 percent down the ballot. Over thirty million voters used punch cards in the 2000 election. Had those voters used optical scanning there would have been 300,000 more votes recorded in the 2000 presidential election nation-wide and 420,000 more votes in Senate and gubernatorial elections. Counties using paper ballot systems should choose either traditional hand counting or optical scanning in order to lower the number of lost votes.

(page 23)

Machine voting, on the whole, has performed significantly worse than the paper systems. Lever machines lost relatively few votes in the past four presidential elections, averaging a residual vote rate of 1.5 percent. Electronic machines lost nearly as much as punch cards, averaging 2.3 percent over the past four elec-tions. The more severe problems appear down the ballot with these technologies, and here we see real concern with the continued use of lever machines. In recent Senate and gubernatorial elections, the average residual vote rates of lever machines and electronic machines were 7.6 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively, of all ballots cast. Had the counties using lever machines used optical scanning, we estimate that there would have been 830,000 more votes recorded in Senate and gubernatorial elections.

These patterns hold up to closer statistical scrutiny, holding constant turnout, income, racial composition of counties, age distributions of counties, literacy rates, the year of a shift in technology, the number of offices and candidates on the ballot, and other factors that operate in a county or in a particular year. For a fuller discussion see our report "Residual Votes Attributable to Technology: An Assessment of the Reliability of Existing Voting Equipment," available at

The immediate implication of our analysis is that the U.S. can lower the number of lost votes in 2004 by replacing punch cards and lever machines with optical scanning. Punch cards and levers are, in our assessment, dominated technologies. That is, there are voting tech-nologies available today that are superior, from the per-spective of lost votes. Scanners consistently perform bet-ter than punch cards and levers. We also believe that optical scanning dominates older full-faced, push button DREs, which comprise fully two-thirds of the electronic machines in our analysis. Touchscreens are, in our opin-ion, still unproven. Some counties, like Riverside, California, have had good experiences; other counties like Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and many counties in New Mexico had very high residual vote rates (over five percent in 2000).

This is not to say that optical scanning is an ideal system. It has plenty of faults and problems. This system also loses a significant number of ballots, though less on average than other systems. Election officials complain of paper jams, the cost of printing, and ballot management. Scanning is imperfect, but it is the best of what is.