We can pay for Starbucks with our phones, but most people walking into polling stations for the 2014 midterm elections will cast their ballots using something far simpler than a digitized machine or a mobile phone: Paper ballots remain commonplace in the U.S., filled out with a pen or pencil depending on the exact type of voting machine.

The old-school approach seems archaic, but it has an advantage over electronic voting machines: It works.

Advertisement

Pamela Smith, the president of election watchdog Verified Voting, estimates that nearly 70 percent of voters will manually fill out ballots to participate in the election this year.

"Paper, even though it sounds kind of old school, it actually has properties that serve the elections really well," Smith told The Hill.

Advertisement

Machine voting is falling out of favor because a lot of the machines are breaking down. They're breaking down because states aren't maintaining them.

Advertisement

The Hill looked at the generally dilapidated state of electronic voting machines:

The lack of spending on the machines is a major problem because the electronic equipment wears out quickly. Smith recalled sitting in a meeting with Missouri election officials in 2012 where they complained 25 percent of their equipment had malfunctioned in preelection testing.

"You're dealing with voting machines that are more than a decade old," Smith said.

"There is simply no money to replace them," said Michael Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University who has examined computerized voting systems in six states.

Bryan Whitener, the Director of Communications & Clearinghouse for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, pointed me towards a 2012 survey on voting methods, since it's the EAC's most up-to-date information on how we vote. "The most common single type of voting system was an optical or digital scan booth," the report reads.

Advertisement

In both optical and digital scan booths, people use a paper ballot to vote, marking them with pen or pencil depending on the type, and then their ballots are scanned.

While some voters will get a digital voting experience (including the approximately 3 million people eligible to vote online this election) most of us will be filling in our candidates by hand.

And if you're envisioning a day when choosing a congressman is as easy as updating your Facebook status, it's going to take a while to make online voting secure. Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told USA Today that online voting is "completely not ready for prime time."

Advertisement

"The security and reliability issues are significant," he said.

Photo via Flickr/Chris Phan (CC BY-SA 2.0)