WASHINGTON – Fewer voters will cast their ballots by punching a card or pulling a lever in this November's elections as the country continues to turn to newer, electronic machines, according to a study released Monday.
While the study says old systems that were prone to error are on their way out, experts also note that means many Americans will be voting on unfamiliar equipment this fall.
At least four out of five registered voters will use the newer generation of machines — either ATM-style touchscreen machines or ones that ask voters to fill in the blanks, a vast change from the contested 2000 presidential election that spurred states and Congress to push for improved equipment.
Back in 2000, just over half the voters had access to the latest technology.
By this fall, however, only one out of 33 voters will be asked to use the system that raised the most objections in Florida — punch cards — and just one in 10 will use a lever machine, according to a survey by Election Data Services, a political consulting firm that tracks election equipment. Six years ago, one in six voters used punch cards and one in five used levers.
The changes are bound to create their own glitches as voters and administrators learn how to use equipment they haven't voted on before, said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data. Just over 30 million voters will be casting ballots on unfamiliar equipment, he said.
"You throw that many people in on something new, you're always bound to see something go wrong," he said.
The changes have created new controversies, especially with accusations that touchscreen-style machines are vulnerable to manipulation. In response, 25 states have passed laws requiring election administrators to use machines that allow voters to verify their vote has been accurately counted, and that create paper receipts for a recount.
Those paper trails — called voter-verified paper audit trails — are creating their own challenges, as manufacturers try to respond to lawmakers' demands for the equipment, Brace said.
Some of the survey results may change by the time the fall election arrives, the study said, because some states are still trying to change over from older equipment as encouraged by the federal Help America Vote Act, which was passed after the contested 2000 election.
The widespread push to modernize means that, in the six years between November 2000 and this fall's elections, nearly 82 million people in a nation of 170 million registered voters will have cast ballots on new equipment, the study concludes.