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Election 2020

Where You Live in the United States Could Radically Change How You Vote

The U.S. has made progress in election security—but not everywhere

A photo of a man casting his ballot using an electronic voting machine
J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

By some measures, the 2020 presidential election could be the most secure in United States history. The pandemic and threats of foreign interference have set up challenges for states (and tech companies), but many experts believe that states have substantially improved the reliability of voting systems over the past couple of presidential election cycles. 

“It’s apparent that we’ve made a lot of progress,” said Mark Lindeman, interim co-director of Verified Voting, an organization that advocates for paper-based voting systems and tracks voting machines by county around the United States. “We absolutely have.” 

But progress has not been uniform, and as votes are tallied, you might wonder: How prepared is your community for this election? 

The security of an election revolves around voting machine technology, so how much you can rely on your vote being accurately counted could depend on which state, or even which county, you live in. 

Many jurisdictions, and the United States as a whole, have been moving over the past decade toward more secure voting systems, based around paper ballots. Others, however, still rely largely on electronic systems that experts fear could be tampered with. 

Here’s an overview of what you will find around the country—and how secure those systems are thought to be. 

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The Voting Machines States Use Around the Country

In the past, elections have used paper ballots, lever-based voting machines, and punch cards or similar equipment. Today, you can broadly categorize the systems used in the United States into three categories. 

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Source: Verified Voting. Data for U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico and Guam, is missing because it is not collected by Verified Voting.

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In most states, at least, your polling place is likely to have a system similar to those of your neighbors in nearby counties. But counties in some states make different decisions about the systems they use to run their elections, so you may not always vote in the same way as the people around you. 

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Source: Verified Voting

For many counties, change is slow to come. “Some states have a history of putting a lot of money into their voting systems every 14 to 20 years and then not doing much,” Lindeman said. Still, the progress, while uneven, has been notable—even if it doesn’t always seem that way. 

“It’s been massive progress,” Lindeman said, “but in any given year it feels glacial.”

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