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E-voting Glossary

E-Voting Technology Glossary

This glossary provides short definitions of the most common e-voting technologies, acronyms and concepts. has posted a useful interactive map of voting technology state by state, including equipment, vendors and problem reports. 

access card
An access card is an encrypted electronic smart card used to interact with a DRE machine. There are four types: security, supervisor, administrator and voter access cards.

accessible voter-verified paper audit trails (AVVPAT)
An AVVPAT is a physical record of the votes cast on a direct-recording electronic machine (DRE) that may be immediately verified by a voter and retained for later confirmation.

ballot-marking device (BMD)
A BMD is an electronic device that allows disabled users to vote independently. A BMS can be used in combination with paper ballots and PCOS machines to provide confidential voting access to the reading- or language-impaired, quadriplegics, blind or foreign language speakers. Ballot marking devices also provide accessibility for standard optical scanning machines.

ballot definition file (BDF)
A ballot definition file is a key component of DRE and optical scanning systems. A unique BDF is created for each election and contains all of the details for a given contest, including candidate names, affiliations and other ballot data. The DRE or optical scanner uses the BDF to determine what is displayed on a screen and how ballots are recorded on the system. The counting software on many e-voting systems use BDFs as a key to tally votes. Ballot definition files are often created by third-party vendors or programmers and have been identified as a potential area for human error to enter the system -- or vector for systematic hacking to occur. As a result, ballot definition audits have been the focus of critics of e-voting. provides more information in this PDF about ballot definition files.

direct-recording electronic machine (DRE)
A direct-recording electronic machine is a device with software that records and tabulates votes. The voter interacts with a DRE using buttons or a touch screen.

Election Assistance Commission (EAC)
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission was created by HAVA in 2002. According to, EAC is "an independent, bipartisan commission charged with developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and serving as a national clearinghouse of information about election administration. EAC also accredits testing laboratories, certifies voting systems and audits the use of HAVA funds."

end-to-end auditable voting systems (E2E)
End-to-end auditable voting systems provide voters with a receipt that can be taken home. They are a form of VVPATs. The receipt does not allow voters to prove to others how they voted because such systems are unconstitutional in most states.

Election Incident Reporting System (EIRS)
The EIRS is a Web-based online reporting system that allows volunteers and officials to log reports of election problems. The EIRS is maintained by the Verified Voting Foundation.

electronic ballot marker (EBM)
An EBM, like a BMD, is a form of ballot-marking device that allows voters to make selections with an electronic input device, often using a touch screen system similar to a DRE. EBMs make e-voting systems accessible to disabled voters.

e-voting (electronic voting)
E-voting is an election system that allows a voter to record his or her secure and secret ballot electronically. E-voting technology includes direct-recording electronic machines (DREs) with touch screens and optical scanners. Electronic votes are stored digitally in voter access cards until they are sent to a centralized location where tabulation programs compile and tabulate results. Advocates of e-voting point out that electronic voting can reduce election costs and increase civic participation by making the voting process more convenient. Critics maintain that without a paper trail, recounts are more difficult and electronic ballot manipulation or poorly-written programming code could affect election results.

Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA)
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 is a federal program that provided nearly three billion dollars to U.S. states to replace punch card voting systems, created the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to assist in the administration of Federal elections, provided assistance with the administration of certain Federal election laws, and established minimum election administration standards.

independent testing authority (ITA)
An independent testing authority is a non-partisan organization in charge of verifying and testing voting machines. The EAC has now taken over from NASED as the ITA for e-voting machines.

The National Association of State Election Directors. Formerly responsible for ITA (independent testing authority) examination of e-voting machines, a responsibility now handled by the EAC.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, often called "the motor/voter" law because it promoted increasing voter-registration opportunities, allows a voter to register at the same time he or she receives or renewes a drivers' license.

optical scan voting machine
Optical scan voting machines use an electronic scanner to read marked paper ballots and tabulate the results. Many counties have been switching from touch screen systems to optical scanners in recent years due to concerns about DRE machines.

precinct-counted optical scanner (PCOS)
A PCOS counts votes directly at the polling place instead of at a central location.

public network DRE voting system
A public network DRE voting system (PNDREVS) is an network that registers electronic ballots and transmits the voting data back to a central location over a public network. Voting data come from optical scanners, DREs, Internet voting or telephone systems. Voters in Estonia, for instance, can vote in local and parliamentary elections via the Internet using a PNDREVS e-voting system. Estonians use a national identity card with a computer-readable microchip to access an online balloting system using an electronic card reader and PIN.

pull lever voting machines
Pull lever voting machines, also known as direct-recording voting systems or lever machines, use mechanical systems to record votes. These machines were a fixture of big city elections throughout the 20th century. Today, only New York still uses pull lever machines.

punch card voting system
A punch card voting system is simply a stiff card and a mechanical device that punches holes to mark a voter's choices on a ballot. Punch card systems have been used for large-scale data collection since the 19th century, when the government used it for the 1890 U.S. Census. Herman Hollerith's Electric Tabulating System, the ancestor to computers as we know them today, used punch cards.

statewide voter-registration system (SVRS)
Every state was required to have an SVRS in place by HAVA, with the exception of North Dakota, which does not maintain such a database. The Pew Center on the States maintains a list of the status of SVRS installations for the 50 states.

vote by mail
Vote by mail systems are being installed in states where touchscreen installations have been removed. Oregon is moving entirely to a vote by mail system, which effectively replaces polling centers with post offices and treats each registered voter as an absentee.

voter access cards
A voter access card is one of four types of encrypted smart cards used to authenticate, administer and operate DRE machines. Security experts identify these cards as a potential vulnerability, due to the possibility of loss, damage, forgery or the vector injection of malicious code.

voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) or (VVPT)
Civil liberties, security and fraud experts all recommend DRE machines that include the capacity to print a physical record that may then be audited to confirm election results. The record may may then be visually verified by the voter and retained as a receipt and confirmation. Such records are of course then useful in the event of a recount or otherwise contested election. Dr. Rebecca Mercuri is credited as the creator of the VVPAT concept, in which e-voting is made auditable through visual verification of a paper facsimile before transferring it to a secure location. As as result, VVPAT is sometimes referred to as the "Mercuri method."

voting machine vendors
The top four providers of voting machine equipment are Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold), Sequoia Voting Systems and Hart InterCivic.

This was last updated in November 2008

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