Teresa Hommel

May 7, 2005





How many paper ballots must be printed for an election?



Absentee and affidavit (provisional) ballots


Regardless of what voting technology is used, the same number of paper absentee and affidavit (provisional) ballots must be printed. For this reason, purchase of DREs (Direct Recording Electronic voting systems) does not eliminate the use of paper ballots, nor the cost of preparation to print these ballots.


Emergency Ballots


Emergency ballots are paper ballots that are prepared for use in case lever or DRE voting machines break down. For example, in New York City each election district receives a package of 300 emergency ballots in the storage pocket of its lever machine. Emergency ballots enable voters to vote in spite of voting machine failures.


Certain types of DREs show high failure rates during elections, and we may expect a higher rate of failures with DREs than we experience with our current equipment. Because of this, a sufficient number of emergency ballots must be printed. NYVV's report “Comparing Annual Costs of Voting Systems”[1] proposed that emergency ballots should be printed for at least 33% of the number of registered voters.


Regular ballots


When paper ballots and optical scanners are used (PBOS), regular ballots for 110% of the number of registered voters would be printed.


Comparing how many ballots are needed


DREs: emergency ballots:          33% of the number of registered voters.

PBOS: regular ballots:          110% of the number of registered voters.

difference                                 77%


For example, if an election district has 1000 voters:


DREs               333 emergency ballots

PBOS              1100 regular ballots

difference         767


False claims


Some opponents of PBOS have asserted that no paper ballots would have to be printed if DREs are used. This is false, because absentee and affidavit (provisional) ballots must be prepared regardless of voting technology.


Other opponents of PBOS have asserted that the difference in ballot printing costs is 110% because all voters need paper ballots with PBOS, and no paper ballots are needed with DREs. This is false, because emergency ballots must be printed. Lack of emergency ballots has caused scandals in several jurisdictions where voters had to scribble the names of their candidates on torn-off pieces of paper from their grocery bags, etc, in order to vote when DREs had failed. The difference in ballot  printing costs would be closer to 70-75% (note that per-ballot printing prices are lower for larger quantities).


PBOS costs less overall


Optical scan systems are less expensive when ALL costs are considered:

acquisition of equipment,

ballot printing,

more difficult logic and accuracy testing with DREs,



replacement of equipment based on the average lifetimes of the equipment,

lawsuits, and

vendor service contracts (always needed with DREs, while many Boards of Elections

 already have staff who are experts in working with optical scanners),


If you only look at ballot printing costs, you get an inaccurate picture of the true costs.







1. New Yorkers for Verified Voting, “Comparing Annual Costs of Voting Systems,”