Balloting, the actual process of voting, may be done in a variety of ways. The secret ballot has become almost universal, but in the past choice was expressed publicly by a show of hands, by standing up, by announcing one's vote aloud, or by dropping colored balls into a container. The paper ballot is still widely used, but special precautions are taken to assure secrecy. During most of the 19th century in the United States, political parties printed their own ballots on paper of different colors and shapes so they could be identified as they were dropped into the ballot box. These ballots invited intimidation of voters and encouraged corruption through vote buying. Eventually the individual states adopted the Australian ballot, so called because it had been used in Victoria state, Australia. The purpose of the Australian ballot is secrecy and honesty in voting. The law requires that the ballot be printed or prepared at public expense and, if printed on paper, be of uniform size and color. It must list all candidates legally entitled to have their names included and must be distributed or available only at polling places where the voting is done in private booths.

In the United States paper ballots have been largely replaced by voting machines. Votes are cumulated on the machines, and when the voting is completed, the totals can be read off. Some U.S. districts have introduced electronic balloting, in which voters mark cards that are run through a machine for rapid counting. Although voting machines furnish no tangible evidence of the voters' intentions beyond the recorded totals, electronic voting permits the ballots to be examined and recounted in case of a dispute.

Demands for recounts of the vote in Florida and other states were a major issue in the extremely close presidential election of 2000. Disputes over the same election led many critics to urge a reform of the balloting system; they alleged that some voters may have been disenfranchised because the machine count failed to register their ballots or because poorly designed cards caused them to vote for the