I'll weakly support ballot optical devices at poll sites in many USA jurisdictions, because our ballots can be quite complicated, until someone shows me that hand counting is generally feasible. With 30 issues on a ballot, sort / stack / count can get ugly.
Aside: Thank you for your work on elections. I wish more geeks would actually work an election, or at least observe, before spewing about how to fix voting systems.
I can speak for what happens in Portugal. We use the d'Hondt system with paper ballots, and it is not uncommon to have around 15 candidates on a ballot in certain elections, though we have no write-ins - only one checkbox per candidate.
In the last elections there were about 4,000 polling stations. Since about 6,000,000 people are allowed to vote, this is around 1,500 people per polling station on average (obviously, the distribution is not uniform). Turnout seldom exceeds 50%, so in practice the number of votes is much smaller.
Votes are counted by hand - no automation at all - at each polling station. Usually, within about 5-6 hours 99% of the votes have been tallied, with the remainder done with by the morning after.
I would say it is demonstrably workable to count votes by hand, even with a large number of candidates. I concede that write-ins may present a difficulty, but honestly: since (afaik) in the USA you can only vote on designated candidates, how difficult can it be to have all of their names appear on the ballot?
In the US, I think most places let you write in whoever you want. If they get enough votes, they win. Google "Lisa Murkowski".
The other problem is that unlike parliamentary systems, in the US we vote for multiple things and not which party/who your MP is. These are some of the things on the ballot:
1. President & VP
3. Congress Representative
5. Ballot measures
Unless each of these is on a different sheet of paper, counting them might be hard. Don't get me wrong though. I think that we should be using paper ballots. What does it matter if it takes 2 days instead of 1 to figure out who won.
Yes, I would imagine write-ins could complicate the situation considerably (thanks for the link, btw!) - though, if the proportion of write-ins is small, it probably won't matter much.
> The other problem is that unlike parliamentary systems, in the US we vote for multiple things and not which party/who your MP is.
This also happens in Portugal; we do use different pieces of paper (and different ballot boxes) for each of the positions we are voting for.
> I think that we should be using paper ballots. What does it matter if it takes 2 days instead of 1 to figure out who won.
Yes, I totally agree with you. There are more important things than a speedy count, and resilience to fraud is certainly one of them. And as far as costs go, they are probably dwarfed by the amount spent on the campaign. I really don't understand why anyone would be so eager to speed up the process, except for shady motives.
And, yes, we use one sheet of paper per election. On election day there are three separate elections (municipal, provincial, parliament) and optionally one or more referendums.
> I wish more geeks would actually work an election, or at least observe, before spewing about how to fix voting systems
Its the same every election - a hundred irrelevant cryptographically schemes...