Reforming US Electoral Voting Systems

Paul Chadwick
September 20, 2008


  • Accurate and precise recording and counting of votes is essential to the implementation of democratic political systems,
  • Public trust in voting systems is essential to legitimizing popularly elected governments,
  • Trust in voting systems has been under question in the United States of America in the wake of electoral controversies relating to the close presidential elections of years 2000 and 2004, and
  • Automated vote-recording systems and software-based vote-tabulation systems are inherently lacking in transparency, subject to potential manipulation by hackers and corporate providers, and threaten public trust in election results.

It is apparent that an improved secure system for counting votes and tabulating results of elections is necessary to ensure public trust in legitimacy of government in the United States of America.

An improved voting system should include the following features:

  1. Paper ballots, which provide an inherently traceable record of votes for verification and recounts,
  2. Non-computerized counting, accountable and certifiable by human representatives of interested parties, as it has been over 200 years of US history preceding the introduction of computerized voting systems, and
  3. Transparent tallies, published and verifiable by any and all interested parties and individuals.


  • Paper ballots in each precinct to be manually counted and tabulated by a team including representatives of the two major parties and any other political parties who choose to participate,
  • The results of precinct ballot tabulations to be submitted and recorded as rows on a spreadsheet with signatures of the participatory precinct representatives certifying their validity,
  • State results of all precincts to be summed and totals calculated on the resulting spreadsheets,
  • The tabulation spreadsheet to be published on commonly accessible electronic media (the Internet) as an XLS or tab-delineated-text file that can be reviewed and recalculated by any interested party or voter to verify the election results, and
  • As a result of this process, the election result is validated. There can be no question as to the validity of the count, all counts are subject to legal review, and the officially accepted count and election result can be no different from the spreadsheet totals.


The Help America Vote Act and some studies of voting systems have recommended mandatory paper trails for automated voting systems. Such paper print-outs of votes entered will, it is claimed, allow voters to verify that their vote has been entered properly and provide data for recounts in case of disputed results.

The basic assumption of these recommendations is wrong. The focus should not be on facilitating recounts in case of failed initial vote counts. The focus should be on assuring that the initial counts are correct and can be trusted without resorting to challenges, recounts, and the potential litigation that surrounds those events.

The clearest evidence of a voter's intent is a properly designed paper ballot with choices marked by the voter's own hand. And if manual recounts of paper records are the method believed to be most trustworthy in cases of disputed tallies, then why should those methods not be used in the first count and organized in such a way as to avoid disputed results altogether?

In addition, states and localities have spent large sums of money to install electronic voting systems and will continue to invest significant sums in verification and quality control procedures for automated voting systems. These expenditures primarily benefit the manufacturers of the automated systems at the expense of voter confidence in results. A manual tabulation system would avoid the vast majority of such expenses, with costs being restricted to printing of paper ballots and the boxes for collecting them securely, and the actual tabulation and verification of votes normally done by volunteers.

The use of standard spreadsheet formats for tabulating precinct results and calculating summations avoids the uncertainty of custom software designed for operating automated voting systems. Spreadsheet and database programs including Microsoft Excel as well as others are readily available, have been thoroughly tested and demonstrated to perform calculations accurately, and run on inexpensive general-purpose computers. In addition, the availability of voting results in spreadsheet or tab-delineated table format allows for manual summation or summation with the use of hand-held calulators that have also been thoroughly tested and demonstrated to perform correctly. With election results tabulated in spreadsheet format, there can be no question that vote totals have been calculated correctly.