Merits of Optical Scan Voting

May 26, 2005
Press Release

1. Optical-scan voting is more intuitive

• Voters make choices by shading in oval-shaped bubbles next to a candidate’s name, similar to a standardized test. Because each candidate’s name is printed directly on the ballot, optical scan provides an intuitive method of choosing candidates that is most familiar to voters, particularly those who have never voted before.

2. Fall-off rate/disparities reduced with optical scan

• Optical-scan systems register low percentage rates of unrecorded votes. Across the board, optical scan systems not only record low fall-off rates, but also the disparity between poor/minority and rich/white precincts is significantly reduced, compared to punch cards (see attachment).

3. Mistakes easy to recognize

• Because voters interact directly with an optical scan ballot, they can easily view their work, reducing the potential for errors and eliminating any guesswork in terms of a voter’s selection.

4. Error-detection technology alerts voters to possible errors

• After making their selections, voters feed their ballots into a scanner that registers their votes and instantly alerts them to errors, such as selecting too many candidates in a race. If an error is detected, the ballot is ejected and the voter is given a second chance to make corrections.

5. Ballot serves as paper record

• The optical scan ballot serves as the paper record that can be used in case of recounts. This differs from a receipt printed from a touch-screen machine because the voters have actually filled out the ballot themselves.

6. The system is affordable/Capital costs are less

• Compared to touch-screen systems, optical scan equipment is less expensive. Each precinct will require one scanner to read optical scan ballots. Using available federal dollars, the Clerk’s office would not be able to purchase enough touch-screen machines to accommodate voters.

7. Multiple ballot formats less confusing

• Hundreds of overlapping voting districts in suburban Cook County result in split precincts that contain multiple ballot formats. Election judges must direct voters to the proper voting booth and, in some cases, issue them specific ballot cards. In primary elections, judges must take an additional step and ensure that voters make it to the correct voting booth representing their desired political party. Using optical scan, an election judge determines the voter’s ballot style and issues him or her the correct ballot card that matches the voter’s ballot style, but does not have to ensure they vote in a particular booth.

8. No ballot assembly required

• Despite our best attempts to oversee the building of ballot books, even the slightest misalignments can result in a defective vote recorder that can prevent a voter from accurately making selections with punch cards. It is also incumbent upon the voter to correctly insert the ballot card to prevent any alignment problems. Unlike punch cards, optical scan equipment does not require any hardware assembly. This will result in a significant savings for the county, as the number of seasonal employees currently hired to construct ballot books would decrease dramatically and the need for replacement parts would be eliminated.

9. Easier for election judges

• With only one optical scanning machine per precinct, election judges will need less time to set up equipment and test machines prior to voting.

Fall-off Rate Comparisons

(percentage of unrecorded votes)



National fall-off rates by equipment
11/02/04 presidential election
Percentage Rate
Optical Scan 0.6%
Punch Card 1.8%
Touch Screen DRE 0.9%
Overall (all types) 1.1%


Racial fall-off rates by jurisdiction
11/02/04 presidential election
Less than 10% African American 0.6% 1.8% 1.0%
Between 10-30% African American 0.5% 1.7% 0.9%
More than 30% African American 0.8% 2.4% 0.6%


Fall-off rates by income level
11/02/04 presidential election
Less than $25,000 0.8% 5.0% 1.3%
Between $25,000 and $32,500 0.8% 2.4% 1.0%
Between $32,500 and $40,000 0.7% 2.0% 1.0%
More than $40,000 0.5% 1.5% 0.8%


Urban areas that have switched
from punch card to optical scan
Punch card
fall-off rate
Optical scan
fall-off rate
Detroit 3.1% (1996) 0.7% (2004)
Washington, D.C. 1.9% (2000) 1.1% (2004)