Virtually every vote cast today will be on a traditional paper ballot, but a few hundred voters instead use electronic voting machines the county’s had since 2004.

Federal law requires there be at least one e-voting machine per precinct, said San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu.

That’s because the machines are meant for voters who don’t speak English well or who have some form of disability.

The touch-screen machines are programmed with each of the languages the registrar is required to service: Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese and Spanish. They can also provide auditory prompts for voters who might be blind or illiterate.

The registrar was on its way to fully deploying the machines to cover all voting in the county, Vu said, before the secretary of state halted their use in 2007 and put in place strict regulations for county registrars, limiting them to one per precinct.

“We’re looking at 10-year old systems,” Vu said. “There’s nothing else to purchase: There’s a lack of vendors coming in because they can’t get certified by the secretary of state.”

Vu said the machines, which can be pre-programmed with multiple languages, can come to the rescue when a polling location runs out of ballots in a certain language.

He said the machines the county uses all have a “voter-verified paper audit trail,” basically an internal paper tape that records each vote.

But their use is still very low across the county. In 2008 there were 700 electronic votes out of the 1.2 million cast countywide, and that number increased to 1,400 in the 2012 election. The share continues to increase, Vu said, but remains very small.

Vu said the machines are more convenient than paper ballots, but that wasn’t the case for at least one voter, Voice of San Diego editor Sara Libby, an English-only speaker without any known disabilities who was nonetheless encouraged by poll workers to use the machine.

They put me on a fancy electronic ballot. Hard to cast my vote. election worker had to help. #sdmayor

— Sara Libby (@SaraLibby) February 11, 2014

@MeanestBossEver @lemonverbena_ No paper receipt. Very confusing because you hit “print ballot” before it counts your vote.

— Sara Libby (@SaraLibby) February 11, 2014

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at

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