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These are the ballot machines and systems available in Texas

Are you familiar with DREs, optical scanning systems?

Early voting is underway.
Early voting is underway. (2020 Getty Images)

Whether you’ve voted many times over the years or this will be your first time casting a ballot, you might be wondering about the equipment involved.

Will you know how to use it? Will you know what to expect? Will the machine properly count your vote?

Rest assured, these systems are made to be user-friendly and easy to figure out. If you find yourself confused come Election Day (or at early voting), you can always ask a poll worker your questions.

In Texas, the state uses three methods to vote: Paper ballots, an optical scan system or a Direct Record Electronic system, also known as a DRE, according to VoteTexas.gov.

Here’s what there is to know about each method:

In a number of Texas counties, officials still rely on paper ballots as the primary way of voting. You’ll mark your ballot by hand with a marker that cannot be erased, or pen, and place your finished ballot in a ballot box. Local election officials then count the votes by hand.

When it comes to optical scan voting systems, voters mark their choices on pre-printed ballots by either connecting “arrows” or filling in “bubbles” next to the candidates' names. “The paper ballot is then inserted into an electronic ballot counter, which then counts the marked “bubbles” or “arrows” on each ballot and automatically computes the totals for each candidate and/or issue,” the state voting website said.

DREs let a voter record his or her choices electronically, directly into the machine. There are several types of DREs. Some have a dial and others use a touch screen. “A DRE also allows for the connection of an audio/headphone attachment, simple touch devices, or a sip and puff tube that enables the blind, elderly, physically disabled, and non-reading Texans to vote independently and in private,” VoteTexas.gov said.

Voters are able to move back and forth between screens, or ballot pages, to select the candidates and issues for whom they wish to vote.

Once a voter has made his or her choices, the DRE provides a summary screen and gives the person the ability to go back and make any changes before casting that final vote. One of the benefits of a DRE system, according to the state voting website, is that it prevents “over-voting,” meaning, it stops the person from selecting two candidates or options in a race where only one is allowed. Similarly, a DRE gives the voter an opportunity to correct “under-voting,” or failing to select any candidate or option in a particular race.


The type of system you’ll be voting on comes down to the political subdivision (county, city, school district, etc.) in which you live, VoteTexas.gov said.

Depending on your area or region, you may also use a different system for early voting than on Election Day.

Make sense?

To review, it hinges on what type of election you’re voting in (local, statewide, national or a combination).

You’ll be handed one of these three options:

  • A paper ballot on which you will select your choices and which will be counted by hand;
  • A paper ballot on which you will select your choices by darkening an oval, completing an arrow, or “marking” with the aid of a voting machine; or
  • A slip of paper with a numerical access code or, in some counties, a ballot activator card. In the next available voting booth, enter your code or card and let the on-screen instructions guide you through the process of electronic voting.

Make sure to bring proper photo ID (here’s a list!) and if you really want to get into some more nitty gritty details, we’ll leave you with these: “The state of Texas has selected and certified voting systems from three different vendors: Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Hart InterCivic, and Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold, Inc.). Regardless of the system you’re using, know this: When voting in the Lone Star State, you count. Texas makes sure.”

This page will bring you to each manufacturer’s website, if you’re curious.


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