How do votes get counted in U.S. elections?

The 2020 election is right around the corner, and soon people all over the United States will be going to the polls to cast their votes. But have you ever wondered how the ballots get counted after the polls close? Each city and state uses a different method to collect ballots, but the counting process is the same no matter where you live. But before the ballots can be counted, there are numerous steps to be completed beforehand. As soon as the last vote is cast, an election judge confirms that the poll workers have sealed the ballot boxes, and proceeds to send the sealed ballot boxes to a central vote counting facility. If digital voting machines are used, the election judge will send the data to the counting facility. Once the preparations have been made, the different types of ballots are processed as follows:

Paper Ballots

In areas where paper ballots are still offered, election officials manually read each ballot and add up the number of votes in the race.

Punch Cards

In districts where voters use punch card ballots, election officials open each ballot box, manually count the number of ballots cast, and run the ballots through a mechanical punch card reader. The software in the punch card reader counts the votes in each race and records the totals. It is important for the manual count total to match the punch card reader total.

Mail-in ballots

Voting by mail has become popular with many voters because of its convenience and because it helps the voter avoid potential exposure to COVID-19. Once local election officials receive a mailed ballot, they check the voter’s name to confirm the person is registered to vote and is sending their ballot from their registered address. On Election Day, state election officials count the mail-in ballots. The mail-in ballots are then added to the votes cast in person.

Digital Ballots

With computerized voting systems, the vote totals are transmitted automatically to the central counting facility. The two computerized voting systems include optical scan and direct-recording electronic systems. The Pew Research Center recorded that nearly half of all Americans use optical scan voting systems, and a quarter use direct recording electronic systems.

Contributed by Megan Johnson (Marketing Intern at VotingSmarter)

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