Vancouver Votes November 19, 2005 City of Vancouver
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About AccuVote

Ballot being inserted into voting machine
Ballot being fed into the AccuVote

The City of Vancouver uses a system of automated voting called the "AccuVote." This system was manufactured by Global Election Systems, which is based in Vancouver. The system was developed and is supported locally.

The City first used an automated voting system in 1988. Vancouver was a pioneer in this method of voting, being the first city in British Columbia, and the second in Canada (after Toronto), to introduce optical scan automated voting equipment.

After use in three general local elections (1988, 1990, 1993), the original OPTECH III-P system was replaced by the AccuVote system in 1996. AccuVote works essentially the same as the original system, but is considered more technically advanced and reliable.

In a March 14, 1996 report to Council, staff recommended upgrading the City's automated voting system.

In a June 27, 1996 report to Council, staff recommended purchase of the AccuVote system.

AccuVote is a portable ballot scan vote tabulator. The unit sits atop a specially-designed ballot box with two separate compartments: one section holds voted ballots after tabulation; and the other holds voted ballots for later tabulation in the event of a system problem. The City of Vancouver has 160 AccuVote machines.

The AccuVote system uses a paper ballot that has candidate names for all offices and questions printed on both sides. The voter casts his/her vote by using a special marking pen to fill in an oval "O" next to the voter's choice. AccuVote reads the ballot as it is deposited into the ballot box. It reads the ballot properly regardless of the direction the ballot has been fed into the machine. The AccuVote stores the information and prints cumulative totals of all votes cast after the close of voting.

The AccuVote system was used in the 1996, 1999 and 2002 Vancouver elections, and will be used for the 2005 election. It has proven to be very accurate, easily used by voters, and capable of providing final election results within hours following the close of voting.

Work at the voting place is also considerably reduced, as manual counting and tabulation of votes cast is no longer required.

Election Technology and Security

The City of Vancouver conducts general elections every three years, and may hold referenda and other votes between general elections. A vital component of the conduct of an election is to ensure that election results are both secure and reliable. The City takes this responsibility very seriously.

The voting equipment currently used by the City was purchased from Global Election Systems in 1996, and has been used for each general election (1996, 1999, and 2002) and special vote (2003 Olympics and 2004 At-large/Wards) since its purchase. Diebold Election Systems purchased Global Election Systems several years ago. The hardware and software components used by the City include:

  • Global Election Management Systems (GEMS) software to create the ballot, program memory cards, and tabulate the results
  • AccuVote voting machines to scan ballots and tabulate the results (each voting location uses one AccuVote voting machine)
  • AccuVote memory cards to store the tabulated results for the voting machine.

The functions described below are carried out by trained City staff and/or City contractors. All key steps are done by staff working in teams in a highly secure area.

The first step in the process is for each of the City’s 160 AccuVote machines to be put through a rigorous set of tests to confirm that each is working properly. Malfunctioning machines are repaired or removed from the usable inventory.

The GEMS software is then programmed for the purpose of creating the ballot, validating and counting the ballots, and tabulating the overall results. This involves entering information for each candidate and/or question, entering information for each voting location, and designing the ballot. Once the ballots are printed, they are stored in a secure manner until used.

Shortly before voting day, a memory card is programmed for each AccuVote voting machine. Each voting machine and memory card is subjected to “logic and accuracy” tests. These ensure the machine correctly reads and tabulates a set of marked ballots. Once a voting machine is confirmed as operating correctly, the memory card is “zeroed out” -- that is, all test results are removed and a summary paper tape is created that shows all zeros. The memory cards are then sealed into the voting machines and the numbers on the tamper-proof seals are recorded for subsequent checking.

At the voting place, the Presiding Election Official (PEO) first runs and retains a “zero tape” to confirm again that there are no results stored on the memory card. Scrutineers or voters are invited to examine the tape and validate that the ballot box contains no ballots.

During the voting day, the voters mark their ballots in secrecy. The marked ballots are then fed into the voting machine in a process that is monitored by an election official. As each ballot is scanned by the voting machine, the results are electronically tabulated onto the memory card. At the end of the day, the PEO runs paper tapes of the results, and the ballots tabulated are reconciled with the manual count of ballots issued. Scrutineers (if in attendance) are again invited to examine the tape. The PEO and the Scrutineers sign each copy of the tape.

The PEO and an assistant then bring the ballots, the voting machine and its memory card, which is still under seal, to City Hall for overall accumulation of the results from all voting locations. It is important to note that the results from each voting location are hand-carried to the central vote counting location. They are not transmitted electronically via the internet, e-mail, or phone system.

At City Hall, the seal numbers are validated to ensure they have not been tampered with. Once confirmed, the seal on the AccuVote machine is broken and the memory card with the results from that voting location is removed. The card is handed to the person responsible for accumulating the results.

Each memory card is inserted into a free-standing AccuVote voting machine, which is connected to the central vote counting computer. The card is read and then added to the accumulated results. This process is repeated for each voting machine until it is confirmed that all voting machines have been received, and their cards removed and added. The signed summary tapes from the voting locations and the completed manual accounts of ballots issued will be compared with the results in the central vote counting PC.

The central vote counting computer is a stand-alone PC and is not connected to the internet or any network. There is no way for this computer to be accessed other than by its operator.

Once all results are accumulated and unofficial results have been determined, a random sample of AccuVote machines are put through logic and accuracy tests again to confirm they are still tabulating accurately. If a re-count is needed for any voting location, the original marked ballots are available for either re-scanning through an AccuVote machine, or for a manual count.

The unofficial election results are announced by the Chief Election Officer (CEO) by approximately 10 p.m. on voting day. By 4 p.m. on the fourth day following the close of voting, the results are certified as official by the CEO.

The City takes numerous steps, both technologically and procedurally, to ensure the integrity of the elections and votes that it conducts. These include:

  • storing ballots in a secure manner
  • storing all AccuVote machines and the central vote counting PC in a secure location at all times with access only on a need basis
  • sealing and checking memory cards
  • developing auditable processes to deal with equipment malfunctions during the voting day
  • reviewing audit logs for both memory cards and the GEMS software as required (these detail all activities such as power failures, etc.)
  • not transmitting results electronically
  • not connecting an AccuVote that is reading ballots directly to the central accumulation software
  • not connecting vote tabulating or accumulation equipment to any networks or the internet
  • testing and re-testing voting machines for accurate tabulation
  • retaining all marked ballots until after the period for appealing the results has passed
  • storing the central vote counting PC, GEMS software, and memory cards in a secure location after the results are determined in the event that some or all of the results need to be validated
  • performing key tasks in teams.

© 2008, City of Vancouver
Last modified: Friday, May 23, 2008