Wednesday, February 01, 2006

New York: 'Dead Last' in Voting Reform

Read this Editorial,
New York Times
January 24th, 2006
[Verified Voting]
There are times when residents of New York can only look to the State Capitol in Albany and ask, What in tarnation are those people doing?

..The Board of Elections needs to set guidelines that require systems that are secure and controlled by the state. And any New Yorkers with clout in Washington - like Governor Pataki, Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg - need to start pleading with the Justice Department to give New York time to get it right.

A Critique of State Elections Board Voting Machine Guidelines is available. [pdf]

Other reference:
The federal Justice Department has threatened to sue New York State over its failure to modernize its voting system, saying New York "is further behind" every other state in complying with new guidelines stemming from the 2000 presidential election dispute.

In Support of Paper Ballots

Some background information on an issue supported by the Syracuse Progressive Coalition. An article from last November on Citizen Action's drive for the paper ballot/optical scanner option for more transparency in Onondaga County's electoral system.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Group rallies in support of paper ballot option
Machine companies favor electronic models

By Jay Gallagher
Journal Albany bureau

ALBANY — The state could be on the verge of making an historic mistake by failing to give counties a chance to buy voting machines that count paper ballots and forcing them instead to buy electronic machines, a group of lawmakers, union members and activists said Monday.

"We want our vote to count as we cast it, That's a guarantee electronic machines simply can't provide," Bo Lipari, head of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, told a group of about 50 people outside the state Capitol.

"This should be a choice for the people of New York state," said Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca. "I'm afraid counties won't have a choice."

At issue is the kind of machines the state should use to replace the lever devices set to be replaced next year. The lever machines are considered outmoded because they are hard for some handicapped people to use.

The two main types of potential replacements are electronic machines, which work like bank ATMs, and optical scanners, which read paper ballots filled out by voters. The electronic machines cost about $8,000 each and the scanners $5,500. The state now has about 22,000 lever machines.

The federal government ordered voting systems modernized after the 2000 presidential election fiasco in Florida. New York is eligible for about $220 million in federal money to replace machines.

But while new systems are already in place in most other states, the New York Legislature couldn't decide last year what kinds of machines to recommend, and passed a measure that counties be given the choice.

But as the deadline draws near, there is a chance only electronic machines will be presented to the state Board of Elections to be certified. Critics claim that's because the voting-machine companies, which make both kinds of machines, want to sell only the more- expensive ones. There's no mandate to force them to offer optical scanners.

Voting machine vendors are pushing the electronic machines because they "bring a much, much greater profit to these same companies," Andi Novick of Rhinebeck said. She pointed to problems in other counties, such as Miami Dade, where machines have malfunctioned or have been shelved because of breakdowns and the need for frequent maintenance.

"If the private companies choose our machines for us, it will be a dark day for democracy in New York," Lifton said.

She and other supporters of the optical-scan machines want the Board of Elections to make sure counties will have a choice of which kind of machines to buy.

"It seems like such an easy thing to do," said Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, D-Ossining, Westchester County. "You vote on a paper ballot and then you have a record."

Town of Poughkeepsie resident Werner Buchholz said the most important thing to him is the voting system's security, and he prefers optical scanners because the original paper documents can be audited after an election. He said he doesn't trust electronic voting machines, regardless of whether they offer a paper receipt.

"I don't think that's secure at all, because the printed-out sheet will show exactly what's on the screen, but it wouldn't show what the machine actually recorded," Buchholz said.

Board of Elections spokesman Lee Daghlian said it's beyond the board's power to require the optical scanners be available.

"Some folks want to force us to certify an optical-scan machine. We don't believe we can do that," he said. "If the Legislature wanted that to happen, they would have put that in the law."

But he said state regulations do require that any machine chosen have a paper trail so that votes can be verified.

Electronic leave trail

The electronic machines do have such a paper trail, said Jonathan Freedman of Sequoia Voting Systems, one of the companies that want to sell machines in New York.

"Sequoia strongly believes that the (electronic system) are the better machines," he said, adding Sequoia may not ask the elections board to OK its optical-scan machine as well.

But Jessiaca Wisneski of Citizen Action, an activist group, said it's essential the elections board give counties a chance to buy optical-scan machines.

"Any other choice besides optical scanners will be a choice for the voting-machine companies bent on maximizing their profits at the expense of New York's voters and taxpayers," she said.

Jay Gallagher can be reached at jgannett@yahoo.com. Journal staff writer Nik Bonopartis contributed to this report.



Legislation in NY State: A08969
An act to amend the election law and the state finance
law, in relation to enacting the Election Reform and Modernization Act
of 2005, repealing certain provisions of the election law relating to
voting machine requirements, making an appropriation therefor and
providing for the repeal of certain provisions upon expiration thereof

PURPOSE OR GENERAL IDEA OF BILL: To modernize the voting systems
utilized in New York State as required by the Federal Help America
Vote Act (HAVA) and to access federal resources to assist in achieving
that goal.

S05877

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FAQ:

True or False? The requirement for a paper receipt opens the door to fraud.

False. There are no "receipts." H.R. 2239/S.1980 mandates paper records that are left in a secure container in the polling place, like conventional paper ballots. The voters cannot take a copy of their votes away from the polling place. These records would enable MEANINGFUL recounts, rather than simple repetition of the machine tallies.