eSlate Voting FAQs


Why are we changing the way we vote? What’s wrong with the previous optical scan system?

The optical scan system has served San Mateo County well, but when the federal government passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, they mandated that counties upgrade their voting systems with accessible voting devices for people with disabilities by the first federal election in 2006. The Act also prohibits the use of any system that does not permit the voter to view and change a vote at the polling place. San Mateo County has chosen to purchase the eSlate voting system to use in all future elections. 

Why did San Mateo County choose the eSlate voting system?

The new eSlate Voting System has the three qualities that are essential in a voting system to meet the new federal requirements: it is accessible, secure and easy to use. It also allows the voter to see and review a printed paper record of the votes they are casting or to confirm their choices by way of an audio playback. The printed copy is viewed through a clear cover on the printer that ensures no one can tamper with the ballot.

How was the eSlate Verifiable Ballot Option (VBO) system chosen?

The San Mateo County Elections Office reviewed all systems under consideration for certification by the California Secretary of State. The eSlate was certified by the federal and state testing authorities. A series of electronic voting technology demonstrations were held and survey results from the users were collected to help make the decision.

How much did the new system cost?

The total cost for the Hart InterCivic voting system was $10,453,516. This provided San Mateo County with an election management system, eSlate voting equipment for the polls (2,100 units total), a new voter registration system, the hardware, software, licenses and support, accessibility devices, storage caddies, voting booth cases, tax and shipping. Federal funds dedicated to voting system replacement under the Help America Vote Act and funds from California’s Proposition 41 will reimburse the County for most of the expense.

Is the new system based on a touch screen, like some ATMs?

No. The voter uses a rotary wheel to navigate through the ballot and select his or her vote. This interface is based on medical research and was chosen because it is more durable and not prone to calibration issues as in touch screen systems and gives voters with disabilities a range of accessories to support different needs. The eSlate has a paper trail that allows voters to confirm their choices on a printed record. The printed copy is viewed through a clear cover on the printer that ensures no one can tamper with the ballot or remove it from the unit.

I have never been able to vote without someone helping me. Will someone be there to help me with this new system?

Yes. Someone will be there to help you, but the system is designed to help you vote without assistance. There is an audio ballot reader that can help if you have problems with your eyesight or difficulties reading the ballot for other reasons and there is a “Help” button that provides on-screen assistance if you have a question. If you press the “Help” button twice, an Vote Center Representative will come.

How can we be sure this system is working correctly?

Before any vote is cast, the machines are tested to make sure they work as expected. This process, known as Logic & Accuracy (L&A) testing, allows Vote Center Representative to be sure votes are counted as they are cast. Vote Center Representatives have always and will always ensure votes are recorded correctly. Comprehensive system testing and validation are conducted before every election. After the election, the Registration & Elections Division conducts the canvass, or the one percent manual tally of the votes cast that serves as an audit to validate the results before they are made official. There are many other security features—both in the process and in equipment and software—built into the election cycle.

How do I know that the way the electronic voting system recorded my vote is the same way I intended to cast my vote?

Voters are able to confirm their electronic vote on the printed record called the Voter Verifiable Paper Trail (VVPAT). The voter compares their ballot with the VVPAT and can make changes before casting their ballot. The VVPAT is the voter’s confirmation that the electronic votes were cast correctly. In the case of a recount, Vote Centers are required by state law to use the paper record as the official vote tally.

 Does the system have a paper trail?

Yes. The eSlate has a Voter Verifiable Paper Trail (VVPAT). The VVPAT is a complete record of the voter’s ballot choices and is used to verify the election results and is the official record used in recounts. The eSlate prints a paper copy of the voter’s choices so that they can verify that their electronic vote matches the paper record prior to casting their ballot. This copy is printed in the selected language of the voter and is viewed through a clear cover on the printer that ensures no one can tamper with the ballot. Once the voter casts their ballot electronically, the paper rolls up out of view and into the secure printer box so that the next voter cannot see the previous voter’s selections.The paper rolls from the printer component of each voting system are collected and stored for 22 months in the case of a federal election and six months for a state/local election as regulated by California State law.

What if a recount is necessary?

The paper audit trail is used in the case of a recount. The eSlate provides Vote Center Representatives with a paper record of the votes cast.  This cast vote record provides a means of recounting votes and ensuring that results are accurate.

How do I know my votes are private and that there is not a database in the computer somewhere that records how I have voted?

There is no way for the system to tie your vote to you. When you vote, there is no identifying information recorded with your vote. You will be given a randomly generated four-digit access code that tells the eSlate which ballot races you should receive based on your precinct. The access code is not associated with your name. Therefore, it is impossible to trace your vote.

What if I change my mind or make a mistake after I have pressed the “Enter” button?

A voter can change any vote at any time until the final “Cast Ballot” button is pressed and you see the American flag waving on the screen. Up to that point, to change a vote, just use the wheel to highlight the candidate you want to vote for and then press the “Enter” button. The earlier vote is erased and the new vote is recorded. Just follow the onscreen instructions for guidance in making changes to your ballot before you finally cast your ballot.

What if I want to skip a contest?

It is your decision and right to choose not to vote in any race. Just use the wheel to scroll past the race you want to skip. After you have voted in the last contest on the ballot, a ballot summary screen will appear listing all the choices you have made. It will also let you know if you missed voting in any race. You will see a list of the votes you have cast and any skipped races will be noted with “No Selection” highlighted in red. You can either go back and vote in the skipped race, or press the “Cast Ballot” button to advance to the paper verification page. You may then confirm your choices including the races you skipped and press “Cast Ballot” the final time to record your vote.

What if I accidentally vote twice in a race? Will my vote be discarded?

The system will not let you vote twice unless the contest allows two or more options. It is programmed to prevent overvoting, the term used when someone accidentally selects more than the permitted number of votes in a race. If you change your mind and select a different choice, the system automatically removes your former selection and marks your new one. If you want to erase your vote and make no other selection, just highlight your current selection and press “Enter” to deselect that choice.

How do I know that my vote has been cast?

Whenever a voter presses the “Cast Ballot” button and the waving American flag appears and the printer displays the “Ballot Accepted” message, the vote is cast and counted. If you are listening to the audio headset, your vote has been cast when you hear the message “Your vote has been accepted.”

If the power fails or if there is a machine failure, will my vote be lost?

No. Your vote cannot be lost once you have pressed “Cast Ballot” and see the waving American flag. Your votes are stored in three separate electronic locations with non-volatile memory as well as the paper copy.  All data is protected and cannot be lost in the unlikely event that the system fails. The system also has a battery backup that immediately engages if an electrical failure should occur. The batteries last for 18 hours of continuous use.