Paper record, paper ballot, ballot card, hand-marked ballot, machine-marked ballot, paper trail …
You've probably heard many of these terms during the discussion about Pennsylvania's plan to replace our current voting systems with more secure and fully auditable new voting systems.
It can be confusing to hear so many different terms used to describe what appears to be the same thing. Let's clear up what they mean for Pennsylvania's plan to have paper-based voting systems in every precinct no later than the 2020 primary.
To appreciate exactly what the future of voting will look like, it's important to understand the method of recording votes with the new systems.
The Department of State is following national standards by requiring that all new voting systems have a "voter-verifiable paper ballot" or "voter-verifiable paper record" of every vote cast. This means that all Pennsylvanians will soon vote on paper – either marking their ballot by hand or with the assistance of an electronic ballot-marking device. In both cases, they will have the opportunity to verify their selections on paper before casting the ballot.
Depending on the voting system selected, voters in some counties will mark their choices by hand on a paper ballot, using a pen to fill in the bubbles or ovals next to those choices ("hand-marked ballot").
Voters in other counties, using a different kind of system, will insert a ballot into a touchscreen ballot-marking device that will assist them in filling in the bubbles or ovals ("machine-marked ballot") and then return the ballot to them for review.
Finally, voters in counties with a third kind of system will make their selections on a touchscreen and then print a paper record of their ballot with the name of every candidate they chose.
No matter how the official ballots are marked or created under the new voting systems, every voter in Pennsylvania will be able to personally confirm their ballot choices on paper before casting their vote.
Every paper ballot or paper record, whether marked by hand or machine, will be scanned and tabulated electronically.
Replacing our current voting methods with paper-based voting systems doesn't mean we will remove technology's important role in vote counting. It simply means we will have voter-verified paper backups of the votes and the opportunity for meaningful audits and recounts.
Whether Pennsylvanians call their future ballots hand-marked or machine-marked, we want them to be able to confidently describe them as "safe" and "secure."