Arlington uses the OpenElect Voting System from Unisyn Voting Solutions. Voters mark a paper ballot by making a clear mark in the red box to the left of their choices. When they have finished and review their ballot, voters then insert the ballot into a scanner, called the OpenElect Voting Optical Scan. The scanner reads the selections and takes a digital image of the ballot. After the polls close, poll workers run a tally report on the scanner to obtain the precinct results.
Also available at each precinct is an OpenElect Voting Interface ballot marking device, which allows voters who cannot complete a paper ballot to mark their ballot without assistance. The ballot marker features both a touch-screen and an audio interface for voters with disabilities or functional limitations. After the voter has completed and reviewed their selections, the ballot marker produces a paper ballot, which is then inserted into the scanner to be counted in the same manner as voter-marked paper ballots.
Voting System History in Arlington
Prior to 1950, all voters in Arlington voted on traditional paper ballots, which were hand-counted by poll workers after the polls closed. This sometimes led to some long nights before results were known!
In 1950 Arlington, like many other urban localities, switched to mechanical lever voting machines. The advantage of these machines was precinct results were reported much more quickly. Each machine had a counter that recorded the number of votes cast for each candidate or question. At the close of polls, poll workers simply added the counter numbers from each machine in the precinct together to determine the results. Absentee voters, however, still voted on paper ballots.
By the early 1990s, other voting technology had emerged that was superior to the lever machines, which were heavy, aging, and becoming difficult to maintain. In 1991, Arlington switched to the first generation of electronic machines, which presented a full ballot face overlaid on a matrix board. Among the advantages of these newer machines was the ability for poll workers to compile precinct totals electronically, which helped obtain results even faster.
At the same time, Arlington also switched to a punch-card based system for absentee voters. Voters marked a numbered card by punching out the number associated with their selections, as indicated on a separate ballot guide. On Election Day, the cards were inserted into a tabulator, enabling faster absentee results. But punch cards were difficult for some absentee voters to use, so in 2001, the punch card system was replaced with an optical scan system, where voters marked selections on a paper ballot that poll workers fed through a tabulator.
In 2003, Arlington switched to electronic touch-screen machines for in-person voting. The advantage was more machines could be deployed to each precinct because of the smaller size. Plus, the touch-screens were much more accessible to voters with disabilities than any of the previous systems because they were portable and offered audio ballot options. Many voters with disabilities were able to vote unassisted for the first time in their lives.
In 2007, however, the General Assembly ruled that Virginia localities could no longer purchase touch-screen machines. Any currently in use could be used until they wear out, after which they must be replaced with optical scan systems. Arlington’s previous touch-screens reached that point in 2015, which is why we now have our current system.
The advantages of the current system over older optical scan systems is that it is digital, meaning the scanners save a full copy of each ballot inserted. This leads to greater accountability, for not only do we have the physical paper ballots as backup for the vote tallies, but if required we also have digital images of each of these ballots. The ballot marker unit also provides more and better options for our voters with disabilities, allowing them to cast their ballots unassisted.