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Why so many differences? Breaking down the ballot process in the U.S.

Why do ballots vary by state? What equipment does each state use?

(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) (Getty)

As primary season gets into full swing and election coverage dominates the national landscape, the issue of ballots might fly under the radar.

Believe it or not, the type of ballots and the equipment used for counting them varies by state.

Here are some things to know regarding ballots as voters head to the polls in droves in the coming months.


Why are ballots different in each state?

Basically, the states choose what type of ballots they have based on factors such as funding, demographics, accessibility, and just overall preference.


What are the different types of ballots?

These are the types of voting ballots and equipment used throughout the country, according to Ballotpedia:

Optical Scan Paper Ballot Systems: Voters mark their votes by filling in an oval, box, or similar shape on a paper ballot. Paper ballots are later scanned either at the polling place or at a central location.

Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Systems: DRE systems employ computers that record votes directly into the memory of a computer. These interfaces may incorporate touchscreens, dials or mechanical buttons. The voter’s choices are stored by the computer on a cartridge or hard drive. Some DRE systems are also equipped with a printer, which the voter may use to confirm his or her choices before committing them to the computer’s memory. The paper records can be preserved to be tabulated in case of an audit or recount.

Ballot Marking Devices and Systems: These systems are designed to help disabled voters who might be unable to vote using other methods. Most devices utilize a touchscreen along with audio or other accessibility features. Rather than recording the vote into the computer’s memory, the ballot is instead marked on paper and later tabulated manually.

Punch Card Voting Systems: These devices employ a paper card and a small clipboard device. A voter punches holes in the card to mark his or her vote. The pattern of holes in the card indicates the votes cast. The ballot may then be placed in a box to be tabulated manually or scanned by a computer later.


What type of ballots/equipment does each state use?

Below is chart of the type of voting equipment each state uses, according to Ballotpedia. Does this make sense to you, or should the country have a uniform way to collect votes? Be sure to weigh in using the comments below.


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