Historical Timeline of Electronic Voting Machines and Technology


1856Victoria, Australia

First Place to Use Official Ballots

The Australian state of Victoria is the first-ever place to use uniform official ballots. This style of paper ballot, later called the Australian Secret Ballot, is printed at the government’s expense. This lists the names of all candidates and issues in a fixed order, while the votes are counted by hand.

Via xhibitions.senate.gov.au

1888 — Massachusetts

Adopted Australia’s Secret Ballot

Massachusetts became the first US state to adopt the Australian Secret Ballot system on a statewide basis. This voting system is still used in some areas of the country (approximately 4% of voters cast hand counted paper ballots in the 2012 US Presidential election).

1893 Australian ballot from Iowa City
Source: Douglas W. Jones, “A Brief Illustrated History of Voting,” www.uiowa.edu, 2003

Jan. 8, 1889 — US Census

Punch Card System Patented

Herman Hollerith creates a method of using punched cards to compile data for the US Census. Although this punchcard system (US Patent 395,782 PDF) was not used for voting, the technology laid the foundation for the punchcard voting systems in the 1960's.

Via http://votingmachines.procon.org/

Nov. 19, 1889 — New York

Mechanical Lever Machine Patented

Jacob H. Myers of Rochester, New York patents the first-ever mechanical lever voting machine (U.S. Patent 415,549 PDF). This technology, is later called the Myers Automatic Booth. This prevents over votes, speeds up the vote counting process, and significantly reduces the chance of dishonest vote counting because the votes are counted by the machine.

Via http://votingmachines.procon.org/

1892 — New York

Lever Machine Was Used in Lockport

“The Myers Automatic Booth lever voting machine was first used in 1892 in Lockport, New York… Lever machines were on the cutting edge of technology, with more moving parts than almost anything else being made. As such, they were as much of a high-tech solution to the problem of running an honest election as computer tabulated punched-cards in the 1960’s or direct-recording electronic voting machines in the 1990's.” (Douglas W. Jones, A Brief Illustrated History of Voting,” www.cs.uiowa.edu/~jones/voting, 2003)


1930- Major US Cities

Lever Machines Were Widely Used In The US

“By 1930, lever machines had been installed virtually in every major city in the United States.” (Mary Bellis, “The History of Voting Machines,” inventors.about.com, Nov. 13, 2000)

1899 Mechanical Lever Voting Machine
Source: Rady Ananda, “1936: Counting America’s 40,000,000 Votes,” www.opednews.com

1962 — Kern City, California

Optical Scan Ballots

“The first use of mark-sense [optical scan] ballots was in 1962, in Kern City, California, using a mark-sense system developed by the Norden Division of United Aircraft and the City of Los Angeles. Development of this 15,000 pound system began in 1958… and the system remained in use in Orange County for over a decade. The system also saw use in Oregon, Ohio, and North Carolina.” (Douglas W. Jones, A Brief Illustrated History of Voting,” www.cs.uiowa.edu/~jones/voting, 2003)

Douglas W. Jones, Sample Marksense Ballot

1964 — Georgia

First Time To Use Punch Cards and Computer Tally Machines

“Fulton and DeKalb Counties in Georgia were the first jurisdictions to use punch cards and computer tally machines when they adopted the system for the 1964 primary election. In the Nov. 1964 Presidential election, these two jurisdictions were joined by Lane County, Oregon, and San Joaquin and Monterey Counties in California, who also adopted the punchcard system.” (Mary Bellis,“The History of Voting Machines,” inventors.about.com, Nov. 13, 2000)

SMRITI RAI, History of Electornic Voting

1965 — California

Votomatic Punch Card Voting System

Joseph P. Harris, with the help of William Rouverol, creates the Votomatic punch card voting system (U.S. Patent 3,201,038 PDF). In this system, a voter marks their choice by punching a hole in a pre-scored card marked with numbers which correspond to candidates and ballot issues listed in a separate booklet. The votes are then tabulated by a computerized counting machine.

J.P. Harris, Data Registering Machine report

1974 — Chicago

The Creation Of The Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Voting Machine

McKay, Ziebold, and Kirby developed a concept for an electronic voting machine, known as the Video Voter, for which a patent was issued on Feb. 19, 1974 (US Patent 3,793,505 PDF).

This patent was the basis for a commercial design of the Video Voter system that was subsequently patented by McKay, Smith & Deutsch (US Patent 4,025,757 PDF). The system, comprised of Video Voter terminals that were controlled by a Video Voter Data Center, that said to be a direct-recording electronic voting system.

1975 — US

First US Government Report to Evaluate Computerized Voting Technology

Roy Saltman pitched to the U.S. government to evaluate considering computerized voting technology. “Effective Use of Computing Technology in Vote-Tallying” investigates voting system security, design, and functionality, as well as the ability to conduct audits of election processes and ballot recounts. This paper initiates the federal Voting Systems Standards program.

Saltman’s report that he presented to the US Gov’t on March 1975.

1977 — South Laguna, California

Precinct-Based Optical Scan System Patented

James O. Narey, with the help of William Saylor, patents (U.S. Patent 4,021,780 PDF) the first model of the modern precinct-based optical scan systems that we use today.

The ES&S 150 Central Count Scanner is an example of a precinct-based optical scan system
Source: Douglas W. Jones, “A Brief Illustrated History of Voting,” www.uiowa.edu, 2003

1977 — Precinct-Based Optical Scan System Patented

James O. Narey, with the help of William Saylor, patents (U.S. Patent 4,021,780 PDF) the first model of the modern precinct-based optical scan systems that we use today.

1988Report Warns of Problems with Pre-Scored Punch Cards

Roy Saltman said in his report “Accuracy, Integrity, and Security in Computerized Vote-Tallying” that “the use of pre-scored punch cards contributes to the inaccuracy and to the lack of confidence. It is generally not possible to exactly duplicate a count obtained on pre-scored punch cards, given the inherent physical characteristics of these ballots and variability in the ballot-punching performance of real voters. It is recommended that the use of pre-scored punch card ballots be ended.” Despite his warning, use of punch card voting systems continues to be one of the biggest problems back in the 2000 US presidential elections.

1996First Governmental Election Conducted Online

“The first governmental election to be conducted over the Internet in the US was the 1996 Reform Party Presidential primary, in which Internet voting was offered, along with vote-by-mail and vote-by-phone, as an option to party members who did not attend the party convention.” (Lorrie Faith Cranor, PhD, “In Search of the Perfect Voting Technology: No Easy Answers,” in Secure Electronic Voting, D. Gritzalis, ed., 2003)

1996Dr. Shamos Offers $10,000 “DRE Tampering Challenge”

Dr. Michael Shamos offers The DRE Tampering Challenge in which he states “I do not believe it is feasible in practice to tamper undetectably with a well-designed direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machine. To demonstrate my conviction, I am willing to bet $10,000.”

2000 to Presently

Nov. 7, 2000 — Florida

2000 Presidential Election Highlights Ballot Problems

Problems with punch card voting systems, particularly in Florida, in the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore put voting technology in a bad light. Inaccurate registration lists, unclear ballot designs, high numbers of spoiled ballots, and questions about voter intent on cards where “the chad”, the small piece of paper punched out of punch card ballots, were not fully punched out were among the problems (CNN, “How We Got Here: A Timeline of the Florida Recount,” www.cnn.com, Dec. 11, 2000 )

After the presidential election in “Nov. 2000… many Americans first recognized that their electoral system had serious problems with flawed voter registration lists, obsolete voting machines, poorly designed ballots, and inadequate procedures for interpreting disputed votes.” (Commission on Federal Election Reform)

Florida Judge Robert Rosenberg, member of the Broward County Canvassing Board, studies a dimpled punch card ballot on Nov. 23, 2000 Source: Gary May, “How Conservatives Invented ‘Voter Fraud’ to Attack Civil Rights,” www.salon.com, Apr. 14, 2013

Oct. 29, 2002George W. Bush Signs the Help America Vote Act

President George W. Bush signs the first law to address voting technology. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) is “an act to establish a program to provide funds to States to replace punch card voting systems, to establish the Election Assistance Commission to assist in the administration of Federal elections and to otherwise provide assistance with the administration of certain Federal election laws and programs, to establish minimum election administration standards for States and units of local government with responsibility for the administration of Federal elections, and for other purposes.” The Help America Vote Act of 2002 is signed into law in an effort to improve voting systems across the country. marking devices.

President George W. Bush signs HR 3295, Help America Vote Act of 2002 into law
Source: The White House, “President Signs Historic Election Reform Legislation into Law,” www.whitehouse.gov, Oct. 2002

Aug. 14, 2003Democrats Raise Questions of Propriety over Diebold Chief Executive’s Ties to George W. Bush

“The head of a company vying to sell voting machines in Ohio told Republicans in a recent fund-raising letter that he is ‘committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.’ The Aug. 14 letter from Walden O’Dell, chief executive of Diebold, Inc — who has become active in the re-election effort of President Bush — prompted Democrats this week to question the propriety of allowing O’Dell’s company to calculate votes in the 2004 presidential election.”(“Voting Machine Controversy,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, Aug. 23, 2003)

Dec. 9, 2003Election Systems Companies Form Information Technology Association of America (ITAA)

“The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) today announced a group of leading election systems companies will align with ITAA to form the Election Technology Council (ETC). ETC members will work together to raise the profile of electronic voting, identify and address security concerns with electronic voting, develop a code of ethics for companies in the electronic voting sector, and make recommendations in the areas of election system standards and certification.”

Apr. 30, 2004California Secretary of State Decertifies All Touchscreen Electronic Voting Machines

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley decertifies all touchscreen electronic voting machines in the state of California and bans their use in four counties. (“California Secretary of State News Release,” www.ss.ca.gov, Apr. 30, 2004)

May 5, 2004US Election Assistance Commission Holds First Public Meeting

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission conducts their first public meeting, inviting testimony from experts including election officials, computer scientists, disability advocates, and voting machine manufacturers. (“Election Assistance Commission Media Advisory,” www.eac.gov, Apr. 27, 2004)

Nov. 2004North Carolina Electronic Voting Machines Lose 4,438 Votes in General Election

During the Nov. 2004 General Election in Carteret County, North Carolina electronic voting machines lost 4,438 votes. The manufacturer, Unilect, claimed the machines could store up to 10,500 votes but they actually only held 3,005 votes. Officials were unaware of the problem because the machines kept accepting votes even after it was full.

July 16, 2004Nevada Mandates Voter-Verified Paper Audit (VVPA)

Nevada becomes the first state to mandate that all electronic voting machines used for federal elections be equipped with printers that produce a voter-verified paper audit trail. (Dean A. Heller “Certification of Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail Printer Completed,” www.sos.state.nv.us, July 16, 2004)

Nov. 2004North Carolina Electronic Voting Machines Lose 4,438 Votes in General Election

During the Nov. 2004 General Election in Carteret County, North Carolina electronic voting machines lost 4,438 votes. The manufacturer, Unilect, claimed the machines could store up to 10,500 votes but they actually only held 3,005 votes. Officials were unaware of the problem because the machines kept accepting votes after their memory was full, despite not being able to store them, and those votes were irretrievably lost.

Sep. 2005Commission on Federal Election Reform Releases Comprehensive Report With Recommendations

The Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by President Jimmy Carter and former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and releases a report. Building Confidence in U.S. Elections makes several recommendations for improving confidence in elections by modernizing election administration. (Commission on Federal Election Reform (Carter-Baker Commission), Building Confidence in U.S. Elections, Sep. 2005)

Dec. 2005Black Box Voting Demonstrates Hacking of Electronic Voting Systems

Black Box Voting, Inc. sets up a demonstration in Leon County, Florida in which computer security experts Harri Hursti and Herbert Thompson are able to hack into the central vote tabulator of an electronic voting system and change the outcome of a mock election without leaving any trace.(Herbert H. Thompson, PhD, “Expert Calls for Increased E-Voting Security,” interview with ComputerWorld Magazine, www.computerworld.com, Jan. 19, 2006)

Dec. 13, 2005Election Assistance Committee Adopts Voluntary Voting System Guidelines

The EAC unanimously adopts the 2005 Voluntary Voting System Guidelines. These new standards significantly increase security requirements for voting systems and expand accessibility for specially-abled individuals, including opportunities to vote privately and independently. The Guidelines took effect in Dec. 2007, at which time all previous standards become obsolete. (US Election Assistance Commission, “Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines Introduction,” www.eac.gov, Dec. 13, 2005)

Jan. 1, 2006HAVA Implements Overvote and Accessability Requirements

“Beginning in 2006, HAVA requires that voting systems notify voters of overvotes and permit them to review their ballots and correct errors before casting their votes…. Also beginning in 2006, [HAVA requires] that each polling place used in a federal election have at least one voting machine that is fully accessible for persons with disabilities.” (Congressional Research Service) “Election Reform and Electronic Voting Systems (DREs): Analysis of Security Issues,” CRS Report RL32139, Jan. 1, 2003)

May 11, 2006Black Box Voting Demonstrates Electronic Voting Machines’ “Backdoors”

Black Box Voting, Inc. and computer security specialist Harri Hursti perform a security test on an electronic voting machine delivered to Emery County, Utah. Hursti shows that the machine contains backdoors that allow the software to be modified. (Black Box Voting, Inc.,“Security Alert: Critical Security Issues with Diebold TSx,” www.blackboxvoting.org, May 11, 2006)

Sep. 13, 2006Computer Security Expert Installs Malware on Diebold Electronic Machine in Less than a Minute

Computer security expert Dr. Edward Felten, with the help of graduate students Ariel Feldman and J. Alex Halderman, demonstrates that with less than a minute of physical access to a Diebold electronic voting machine or its PCMCIA memory card.(Edward W. Felten, PhD,“Security Analysis of the Diebold AccuVote-TS Voting Machine,” Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University)

Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., Governor of Maryland, 2003–2007
Source: Maryland.gov, “Former Governors: Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.,” www.maryland.gov, Feb. 19, 2013

Dec. 14, 2007EVEREST Report Finds DREs Do Not Meet Computer Security Standards

The EVEREST Report of Findings commissioned by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer L. Brunner finds that all of “the computer-based voting systems in use in Ohio do not meet computer industry security standards and are susceptible to breaches of security that may jeopardize the integrity of the voting process.” (View the FULL REPORT here.)

Nov. 4, 2008–2008 Presidential Election Runs Smoothly

Despite publicized concerns in the weeks leading up to the 2008 presidential election, election day went smoothly. There were reports of glitches with electronic voting machines in Florida, Ohio and Virginia. The lack of a close outcome in the presidential race limited the impact of the minor problems that arose.

Barack Obama and John McCain, 2008 presidential candidates
Source: Jane Sasseen, et al., “Election 2008: Obama, McCain, and and the Economy,” www.businessweek.com, 2008

June 5, 2009Sequoia Voting Systems Allows Access to Technical Information about DREs

In response to the controversial Washington, D.C. September primaries where Sequoia machines counted more ballots than there were votes, Sequoia Voting Systems agrees to turn over access to technical information on how the voting machines work and tabulate results. This agreement then allows the D.C. Council to turn over documents such as blueprints of the machines and the source code to computer and legal experts for examination. (Tim Craig, “Firm to Give D.C. Information About Its Voting Devices,” Washington Post, June 6, 2009)

Sep. 3, 2009Diebold, Inc. Sells Election-Systems Business to Election Systems & Software, Inc. for $5 Million

Diebold Inc. sells its U.S. election-systems business to Election Systems & Software Inc. for $5 million, about one-fifth of what it paid 7 years earlier. Diebold, whose primary focus is making ATMs, entered the voting machine business in hopes of capitalizing on rising demand following the disputed 2000 presidential election. The sale drew the concern of lawmaker Charles Schumer (D-NY), Chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, who asked the Department of Justice to review the deal. (Veronica Dagher “Diebold Exits US Voting-Machine Business,” Wall Street Journal, Sep 3. 2009)

Sep. 13, 2010Brennan Center Report Calls for Publicly Available National Database of Voting System Malfunctions

Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law issues a report calling for a publicly available national database containing information on voting system failures and vulnerabilities. The report finds that the same malfunctions occur frequently with the same machines in different jurisdictions. Election officials are often not aware of vulnerabilities because vendors are under no legal obligation to notify election officials of past system problems. The report’s recommendations include vendor reporting requirements, a federal agency with powers to investigate voting system failures, and enforcement mechanisms that include civil penalties.(Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law “Voting System Failures: A Database Solution,” Sep. 13, 2010)

2011Security Experts Hack Voting Machines by Remote Control

“Voting machines used by as many as a quarter of American voters heading to the polls in 2012 can be hacked with just $10.50 in parts and an 8th grade science education, according to computer science and security experts at the Vulnerability Assessment Team at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. The experts say the newly developed hack could change voting results while leaving absolutely no trace of the manipulation behind…The team’s video demonstrates how inserting the inexpensive electronic device into the voting machine can offer a ‘bad guy’ virtually complete control over the machine. A cheap remote control unit can enable access to the voting machine from up to half a mile away.”(Brad Friedman, “Diebold Voting Machines Can Be Hacked By Remote Control,” www.salon.com, Sep. 27, 2011)

Nov. 6, 2012Long Lines Due to Voting Machine Malfunctions in 2012 Presidential Election

The elections were rife with long lines and some glitches with voting machines. A YouTube video showing a Pennsylvania voting e-voting touch screen machine “flipping” a vote from Obama to Romney went viral. Machine breakdowns in Virginia caused three to five hour long lines that prompted some polling places to remain open late. South Carolina reported too few machines as well as broken machines. Malfunctioning machines were reported in Georgia, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Colorado. (Associated Presse, “Voting-machine Glitches: How Bad Was It on Election Day around the Country?,” www.csmonitor.com, Nov. 7, 2012)

2013 New York City Returns to Lever Machines for Primary Election and Runoff

Approximately 5,100 lever voting machines that weigh over 800 pounds and have more than 20,000 parts each, have been brought out of storage for the New York City primary election and runoffs and made ready for the general election in November. The lever machines are being used because the $95 million electronic system caused chaos in the 2012 election including a 72 day long recount involving litigation for the special election for State Senate in Brooklyn.(New York Times, Thomas Kaplan, “Elections Board Rings in the Old, as Lever Machines Replace Scanners,” www.nytimes.com, Sep. 8, 2013)

The New York Board of Elections is bringing lever machines out of storage for the 2013 city elections.
Source: Thomas Kaplan, “Elections Board Rings in the Old, as Lever Machines Replace Scanners,” www.nytimes.com, Sep. 8, 2013

August 29, 2016 — FBI Says Foreign Hackers Penetrated State Election Systems

The FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems, according to federal and state law enforcement officials.

(Michael Isikoff, Chief Investigative Correspondent, Yahoo News)

Carrie Jean Del Valle

Written by

A writer of 10 years. Passionate about technology and transparency. Believes in the power of people.

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