A voter circles or underlines the name of Candidate "Y" but does not actually make an "X" or "line" on the ballot...?
Is this a vote for "Y"...?
A voter crosses off the name of one candidate, but again makes no "X" or "line" on the ballot...
Is this a "vote"....?
Uh...depends on what the guideline says.
A voter circles "X" on the ballot but then puts then marks there ballot next to "Y"...
Is this a vote for "X" or "Y" or neither, or both...?
The combinations are endless...
These are not unusual cases by the way, in a ballot box of 1000 votes it is not unusual to have a couple dozen that are "unusual" in some way...
Now that's an overstatement. Although I've noticed that, here in Germany, there are more "funny" ballots in working class areas than in more white-collar precincts.
Here is my proposal to end all the fuss...
1) Registration ends 30 days before the election.† To register you must produce 2 pieces of picture ID, OR be swore in by somebody with 2 piecces of ID who will personally and legally vouch for your identity.†
The false swearing in or vouching for a voter gets you 10 years in jail. (ie if you say somebody is indeed "x" and it turns out to be false, you go to jail) - WE enforce this rule with ZERO tollerance.
2) A list of all registered voters is published 21 days before the election.† The list is on the internet, available at government offices, etc.† There is a 24 hour a day 1-800 number where you can also phone in and verify that you are registered.† You have 1 week to clear things (address, clerical errors, etc) up if you are not on the list.
3) Everybody brings 2 pieces of ID to vote, OR are sworn in by somebody with 2 pieces (same punishment if you say you can verify somebody is indeed "X" when they turn out to be "Y"
On the whole, this is rather too complicated. Part 2 is exactly as it should be, though. If there are any inclarities about your registration, government should not have the right to remove you from the list without having successfully contacted you first. breaching this rule should also mean jail.
4) Everybody votes via optical scanner.
5) Before you leave, you scan your ballot with a "test" scanner, which will show you who you have voted for.†
If your ballot does not scan, you get to correct or replace your ballot.† After you have verified that the machine correctly reads your ballot, you give it to the poll worker who places it in the ballot box.
6) If the optical scanner cannot read your ballot after it is deposited, it is a null and void vote.
A rather weak replacement for a paper ballot...
All that is needed is a desire to fix the system... it's easy...
There is no desire to fix the system, however...
Some more points that need to be addressed:
There will have to be uniform standards of registration, ballot design etc across the voting area (state, in the case of elector ["presidential"] elections.)
Given the many, many things Americans are allowed to vote on, a purely hand counted paper ballot will be impractical. I'd advocate some sort of machine-readable paper ballot (such as the optical scan thing Vorlon lines out) with all
ballots in all elections machine counted on election night and hand counted in the two weeks after.
The hand count result is the valid official result. The election night coutn is for information value only.