Ballot Duplication Technology: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Our first post in this series on ballot duplication served as an explainer to demystify this term, which refers to the process used to transcribe a damaged or unreadable ballot so that it can be counted.

In our second blog post, we shared the Overseas Voting Initiative’s (OVI) latest recommendations for ballot duplication in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this post, we will define ballot duplication technology solutions and give a general overview of how these solutions work.

What is ballot duplication technology?

Ballot duplication technology solutions are comprised of software and hardware used to automate the transcription of damaged or otherwise machine-unreadable ballots efficiently and accurately within a transparent and verifiable environment. Ballot duplication hardware components are usually commercially available scanners, printers and computer workstations.

What specifically happens during the ballot duplication process?

Two specific actions are performed during the duplication of a damaged or machine-unreadable ballot:

  1. The interpretation of the ballot style — an elections official determines the version of a ballot within a jurisdiction that an individual voter is eligible to vote
  2. The voter’s marked responses to those specific ballot style choices are preserved onto a new tabulation-ready ballot

How does ballot duplication technology work?

The process for transcribing a damaged or machine-unreadable ballot  — we’ll use the term “damaged” in this article for simplicity — using ballot duplication technology varies according to the specific provider and technology used. However, the transcription process typically follows steps similar to these:

  1. The damaged ballot is digitally scanned, either individually or as part of a “batch,” or group of damaged ballots requiring duplication. A duplicate ID number, distinct marking or barcode is physically printed on the scanned damaged ballot by the scanner simultaneously.
  2. The ballot style of the damaged ballot is recognized and a “clean copy” of the appropriate ballot style is retrieved from the electronic repository of available ballot styles for that jurisdiction and a duplicated ballot image is created.
  3. This same duplicate ID number, distinct marking or barcode that was printed on the damaged ballot as it was scanned is produced and associated as a digital overlay on the new duplicated ballot image. Having the same duplicate ID number on the damaged ballot and the newly created ballot results in a duplicate ID match and allows these two ballots to be associated providing a chain of custody of the duplication process for auditability.
  4. After being electronically matched, the scanned damaged ballot image and the duplicated ballot image are displayed side-by-side on screen and reviewed for approval by a team of bipartisan election workers, often called a “ballot board.” These boards are tasked with approving all ballots requiring duplication following the jurisdiction’s election laws and procedures.
  5. Upon approval by the ballot board, the new duplicated ballot image is printed — if required — and routed for tabulation.
  6. The new duplicated ballot is counted by the jurisdiction’s tabulation system.
How Ballot Duplication Technology Works

Do all election jurisdictions use ballot duplication technology?

Not all election jurisdictions use ballot duplication technology. Most election jurisdictions that duplicate ballots use a manual process for a variety of reasons including budget constraints, the number of ballots duplicated in a typical election, physical size of a jurisdiction’s post-election processing area and state election laws.

Next up, we will share our observations on innovation in ballot duplication technology since 2016 and provide an overview of the marketplace landscape. In September, we’ll share frequently asked questions (with answers!) to help in discussing ballot duplication with external stakeholders. Finally, we’ll wrap up our ballot duplication blog series with two posts highlighting what our OVI Working Group members and other state and local election officials are doing in their jurisdictions around ballot duplication innovation, communication and remote observation of post-election processes.