This year marks a very important year for global elections. Not only is the presidential election in the United States fast approaching, but 2016 has already seen general elections in Korea, Republic of the Congo, Ireland, Portugal and more. Forthcoming votes are also slated for the Philippines, the Gambia, Georgia and elsewhere. However at the heart of almost all of these and more is one common factor – printing.
The earliest records of voting date back to the 6th Century BC, when the Athenians set a precedent for taking public votes when electing officials. Elections have since undergone many changes over the years. However, by the 20th Century, printed ballots had become the global standard for the tallying of votes in major government decisions.
Such votes include not just general and local elections, but also the innermost workings of executives and legislatives across the planet. Printed ballots are used for parliamentary purposes, such as the passing of bills through parliament.
It may not be an exaggeration to suggest therefore that ballot printing has become an apparently unmovable cornerstone of modern elections.
Print Solutions Still Preferred to Electronic Voting
In the burgeoning age of technology, one may assume that governments would now make use of advanced electronic systems. However, even though forms of electronic polling are used in certain countries, voting is overwhelmingly conducted by using paper ballots. And the primary reason for this is security.
Speaking to the BBC, former UK minister Lord Malloch Brown said, “In truth, online voting is not as secure as going to the polling station.” Electoral law expert professor R A Watt from Buckingham University also noted, “It is quite clear that voting outside the controlled environment of the polling place is susceptible to fraud.”
Cybercrime is, undeniably, a looming threat for any country considering internet voting, as hacking is a danger for even the most intricate and secure of online systems. The importance of avoiding electoral fraud can never be understated. And e-voting systems, such as those used in Argentina, appear to have been dogged by allegations of flaws and fraud.
What is more, e-voting can be harder to use. A 2014 study revealed, “Poll workers expressed more intensely negative attitudes towards e-voting than voters, especially in relation to difficulty of use and lack of training.” E-voting solutions, it seems, have a long way to go before they can hope to replace printed ballots.
Different Types of Printed Ballots
There are three primary types of printed ballots typically used in most major government elections. According to election watchdog Verified Voting, governments tend to make use of one of three leading paper methods.
Optical Scan Paper ballot systems, comprising both mark-sense and digital image scanners, allow voters to mark paper ballots that are then tabulated by scanning devices. Once the voter has marked their choice, the ballot paper is collected and scanned on an optical scan system.
Punch Card Voting Systems use cards and a small hole punch-like device for recording votes. With this system, voters make holes in the cards adjacent to their choice. These are then counted by a computerized vote tabulation system.
Hand-counted paper ballots are still widely used, too, especially in the case of absentee and provisional ballots.
Whichever paper ballot method is used, however, the way papers are printed plays an integral part in a ballot’s integrity.
Printing Provides Accuracy
When it comes to actually printing ballot papers, several steps must be carefully followed to ensure votes are counted correctly.
Ballot papers must be simple to make them easily recognizable and understandable for all voters. Poor ballot design could potentially even jeopardize an entire election.
Details such as the clarity of the layout, typefaces used, written instructions, font size, color coding and images are all essential to ensure integrity.
After the design has been perfected, it is time to print. Aceproject.org states that in systems where ballots are liable items, strict security and controls must surround ballot paper printing. If ballot authenticity is provided using particular sorts of paper, stocks of this paper must also be strictly controlled.
Indeed, as Aceproject.org points out, printing ballots is a high volume, short turnaround-time process that demands total print accuracy. It is necessary for the for electoral management bodies to have total confidence in the capacity, quality control procedures, integrity and security of their ballot paper contactors.
The printed ballot is unquestionably more secure and carries more legal weight than any electronic method. Indeed, an Australian government report in 2012 concluded that “the online casting of votes in elections seems an unlikely prospect.”
In matters as important as the electoral process, it seems, printing will almost certainly continue to play a pivotal role in the years to come. Inspiring trust in both voters and poll workers, a greater legal weight and unparalleled accuracy: printed ballots are here to stay.