About Voting Systems
A voting system is a way to cast and count the choices a voter makes on a ballot. A voting system consists of three main parts.
- The election management system – This is where the election is made. It includes programming the election, creating ballots, and looking at test results to be sure they are accurate.
- The precinct count system – This refers to the part of the system that scans a ballot at a polling place and creates a tally from the voter’s choices for each race on the ballot. (See Paper Ballots in Florida below)
- The central count system - This refers to the part of the system that is like the precinct count system but the process happens at a central facility.
A voting system also includes other things like procedures, manuals, supplies, and software needed to run the system. See section 97.021(47), Florida Statutes.
Paper Ballots in Florida
In Florida, all voting is by paper ballot. So, if there is a recount because of a close race, the voted ballots can be rescanned through a device (also known as a tabulator) that scans or reads the choices made on a ballots, or these paper ballots can be examined as allowed by law. Election officials must keep ballots, like other election materials, for at least 22 months following the election.
For more information about voting in Florida, visit our For Voters page.
Hardware and Software Testing and Certification
The Florida Secretary of State’s Office approves voting systems for use in Florida. Any voting system used in an election in Florida must first be tested and approved by the Secretary of State’s office before the system can be purchased and used by the county Supervisors of Elections.
If a vendor of a voting system wants to sell their voting system in Florida, that vendor must first submit an application to our office for testing and approval of that system. For more information about the application, see Voting System Application below.
After a completed application is submitted, but before testing begins, the vendor seeking certification in Florida for a voting system must send to the Florida Department of State the original software and firmware from a Voting System Testing Lab certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. This package is called a “trusted build.” For more information about the “trusted build” process, see Security of Voting Systems below.
The State tests voting systems based on the requirements in state law and rule. (See sections 101.5605, 101.5606, and 101.56062, Florida Statutes; Rule 1S-5.001, Florida Administrative Code; form DS-DE 101.) The State tests a voting system’s security, safeguards, data encryption, and ensure the system is secure and that it accurately counts votes.
As an added measure of precaution, all members of the testing and certification team are required to pass a level-two criminal background check.
Florida currently has certified voting systems from two major vendors. See “Voting Systems Resources” on our Voting Systems webpage to see which vendor and current versions of these systems are in use in each county. Detailed reports about these systems are also publicly available on our Certified Voting Systems and Vendors webpage.
Security of Voting Systems
Security of our voting systems is a top priority in Florida. Voting system software is only issued to county Supervisors of Elections by the Florida Department of State through a “trusted build” process - a secure and well-documented closed chain-of-custody process followed before, throughout, and after installation of new equipment or software.
Once a new or updated voting system is tested and certified by our office, the vendor sends the system’s installation disks directly to our office, not to the county. We make sure that the disks include exactly the same system that we tested and certified. Upon verification, we then send the voting system installation disks to the county for their use.
Once set-up has begun at the county level, a total systems test is conducted.
Counties also follow their own strict chain-of-custody and physical inventory processes for all voting system devices. Voting system components related to the trusted build ballot processing are “air-gapped,” meaning that it is protected from internet threats. The individual thumb drives that record the votes from the precincts, early voting sites, and vote-by-mail central count tabulators are digitally signed and secured. Equipment cannot be accessed without using at least two or more pieces of information to verify the identity of the person accessing the system and to ensure the person is an authorized user (also known as multi-factor authentication).
Counties are also required to adopt and use minimum security procedures. These procedures cover a wide range of processes and activities, including but not limited to, staffing and facilities security, pre-election system testing (also known as logic and accuracy testing), ballot distribution and transport and voting equipment storage. The State reviews these procedures every odd-numbered year and whenever there is an update or change to the security procedures. See section 101.015(4), Florida Statutes; Rule 1S-2.015, Florida Administrative Code.
Pre- and Post-Election Voting System Testing
Before each election, a county must perform what is called a Logic and Accuracy Test. The purpose of this test is to make sure that ballots are printed correctly and that the voting system is counting votes correctly. This test is publicly noticed in advance and open to the public. See section 101.5612, Florida Statutes. A backup copy of the elections database is sent to the Division of Elections each time a county completes this test. This backup copy is stored for disaster and recovery purposes.
After each election, the county must perform a voting system audit. The purpose of this audit is to check that the equipment and procedures accurately recorded and counted the votes. In Florida, counties have the choice of doing a manual audit or an automated independent audit:
A manual audit process involves a public hand count of the votes cast in in one or more randomly selected precincts in one randomly selected race that appears on a ballot.
An automated independent audit involves the use of technology to independently tally the votes cast across every race that appears on all ballots in at least 20% of the randomly chosen precincts.
Regardless of the audit method chosen, the audit is publicly noticed in advance and open to the public. The results of the audit are also publicly posted. The only time this audit is not completed is if there has been a manual recount conducted in that election in that county. For details about the audit process, see section 101.591, Florida Statutes and Rule 1S-5.026, Florida Administrative Code.
Voting System Application
Any person or entity submitting a voting system for approval must have a registered agent on file. (See section 101.5605(3), Florida Statutes.) The Florida Voting System Standards provides the process for an applicant to seek voting system’s approval. (See sections 101.5605, 101.5606, and 101.56062, Florida Statutes; Rule 1S-5.001, Florida Administrative Code; form DS-DE 101.)
Any information submitted as part of that application that constitutes a trade secret or is otherwise confidential or exempt from the public records disclosure requirements of Chapter 119, Florida Statutes, must be marked before submission. The applicant bears responsibility for adequately marking information that is a trade secret or otherwise confidential or exempt.