Why are we replacing our current system?
South Carolina’s current voting system was implemented in 2004 and is reaching the end of its expected useful life of 15 years. Replacement will provide the state with a dependable system for years to come and will greatly enhance the security and resilience of our election process. Having a paper record of each voter’s voted ballot will add an additional layer of security as it allows for audits of paper ballots to verify vote totals.
What is the new system?
The ExpressVote ballot-marking system from Election Systems & Software (ES&S).
When will the system be in place? For all elections beginning January 1, 2020. Some voters may see the system in use prior to that date in local elections.
What is the ExpressVote and how does it work?
The ExpressVote is a ballot-marking device (BMD). A BMD is a device that helps voters mark a paper ballot more accurately and efficiently. A voter’s choices are presented on a screen in a similar manner to a voting machine. However, a BMD does not record the voter’s choices into its memory. Instead, it allows the voter to mark the choices on-screen and, when the voter is done, prints the ballot selections. The resulting printed paper ballot is then either hand counted or counted using an optical scanner/tabulator.
To vote on the ExpressVote, you will show your Photo ID, confirm your address, and sign the poll list as normal. You will then be given a blank ballot and be directed to an ExpressVote. You insert the ballot into the ExpressVote to begin marking your ballot. After making your selections, you will print your ballot. You will then have the opportunity to review your selections printed on the ballot before inserting it into a ballot scanner. The scanner tabulates the votes on your ballot and feeds the ballot into a locked ballot box. The paper ballots are then used to verify and audit election results.
How much did it cost?
Approximately $51 million. The system includes hardware, software, implementation, training and support.
How was the new system chosen?
The award was made after a six-month procurement process overseen by the S.C. Department of Administration and the State Fiscal Accountability Authority. An evaluation panel made up of the five members of the State Election Commission was charged with considering the proposals and choosing the system that was most advantageous to the citizens of South Carolina. The goal was to find a system that is secure, accurate, accessible, auditable, transparent, reliable and easy for poll managers and voters to use.
The panel considered a total of seven proposals from three voting system providers. Each vendor submitted proposals for systems that feature hand-marked ballots and ballot-marking devices. Over the course of six weeks, the panel studied proposals and participated in hands-on demonstrations. The panel was advised throughout the process by state and private cybersecurity experts, advocates for voters with disabilities, experts on accessible technology, national voting system technology consultants, and county and state election administrators. After deliberation and independent scoring by panel members, the panel unanimously selected the ExpressVote voting system as being the most advantageous to the voters of South Carolina.
Who advised the panel?
- Cybersecurity experts from the State Election Commission; S.C. Department of Administration; and Soteria (a private cybersecurity firm).
- Accessibility experts from S.C. Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities; S.C. Assistive Technology Program, University of South Carolina School of Medicine; S.C. Commission for the Blind; and S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation Department.
- Election administrators from the State Election Commission and county boards of voter registration and elections.
- Freeman, Craft, McGregor Group (a national voting system technology consulting firm).
What are the benefits of a ballot-marking device?
Ballot marking devices (BMDs) offer many of the benefits of touchscreen voting machines while also providing the assurance and security of a paper ballot.
- BMDs are fully accessible for people with disabilities allowing every South Carolinian to vote independently using the same equipment. Hand-marked paper systems are not accessible and require voters with disabilities to vote with assistance or on a device different from other voters.
- BMDs prevent voters from overvoting (selecting more candidates than allowed). Hand-marked paper ballots can be overvoted. Election officials are unable to determine voter intent in an overvoted office leading to the voter’s vote not being counted.
- BMDs prevent stray marks. Unintended marks on a paper ballot can cause overvotes or votes to be cast differently than intended.
- BMDs prevent improper marks. Voters do not always mark paper ballots by filling in the oval as instructed. It is common for voters to circle a candidate’s name, make a check mark, or even cross through a name. Improper marks require election officials to try to interpret these marks to determine voter intent. Ultimately, marking the ballot differently than instructed can cause a voter’s vote to not be counted.
- BMDs reminds voters if they have undervoted (missed an office or voted for fewer candidates than allowed).
- BMDs offer the easiest transition for voters. South Carolinians have been voting on touchscreens for the past 15 years. Voting on the ExpressVote will offer a familiar experience with the added assurance of verifying their vote on a paper ballot.
I heard the ballot uses a barcode. What’s in the barcode?
In addition to the summary of votes printed in text on your ballot, the ballot marking device also prints several barcodes. None of the barcodes include any information about the voter. One barcode includes a number that identifies the ballot style (i.e., which offices are on the ballot). The other barcodes include numbers that identify the selection made by the voter in each contest. When the voter inserts the ballot into the scanner, the votes are tabulated by reading the barcodes. The barcode provides the same information to the scanner as do the oval positions on a hand-marked paper ballot.
So how do we know the information in the barcodes matches the selections printed in text?
Election officials test ballot marking devices and scanners prior to every election to ensure they are tabulating correctly. Election officials also audit paper ballots to ensure that the scanner’s count of the barcodes matches up with the count of the written word. But most importantly, the SEC will make scanned images of all ballots cast in statewide elections available to the public. The use of paper ballots combined with this level of transparency makes it possible for anyone to do their own count of the paper ballots to verify results.
Where can I see the new system? How can I request a demonstration of the new system?
At this point, the SEC and county boards of voter registration and elections do not yet have the equipment to provide demonstrations. State and county election officials will begin offering demonstrations and other voter education opportunities as soon as possible. Check back here for details.