Brennan Center and Supporters Call on New York City Board of Elections to Reject “Full-Face” Touch-Screen Machines

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Jonathan Rosen
BerlinRosen Public Affairs, (917) 803-6176

Brennan Center, NYPIRG, League of Women Voters, New Yorkers for Verified Voting Call on New York City Board of Elections to Reject “Full-Face” Touch-Screen Machines

New Brennan Center Data on Electronic Voting Machines Casts Doubt on Touch Screen Machines Being Considered by New York City

New York, NY - The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law today released new data in a letter to the New York City Board of Elections that casts doubt on the reliability of electronic voting machines being considered for purchase by the Board. The New York City Board of Elections is currently in the process of selecting new machines to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act.

The new data shows that full faced touch-screen machines did not record the votes of 15.4 percent of voters for state ballot initiatives, nearly double the rate of the other machines being considered by officials.

In response to the new data, the Brennan Center, the League of Women Voters and NYPIRG came together for the first time to endorse optical scan machines and call on the New York City Board of Elections to reject touch-screen electronic voting machines.

"For the past two years the Brennan Center has been at the forefront of the national20debate on electronic voting. Our Voting Technology Assessment Project convened the top government and private sector scientists and security professionals to analyze voting systems and propose reforms," stated Michael Waldman, Executive Director of the Brennan Center.

"Now, after all we heard about problems in other states, New York may make its own severe mistakes as we move to electronic voting. Our findings are clear: New York City cannot ensure that voter's choices will be accurately recorded if New York City decides to use the touch-screen machines that it is considering. To ensure that we accurately record voter’s intentions, we endorse optical scan machines for New York City," stated Lawrence Norden, Counsel at the Brennan Center and director of the Center’s Voting Technology Assessment Project. .

In August, the Brennan Center examined the “residual vote rate” or “lost vote rate” among the two types of systems being considered for purchase by the New York City Board of Elections: touch screen electronic voting machines and optical scan machines. The “residual vote rate” is the difference between the number of ballots cast and the number of valid votes cast in a particular contest. Residual votes thus occur as the result of undervotes (where voters intentionally or unintentionally record no selection) or overvotes (where voters select too many candidates, thus spoiling the ballot for that contest).

New data released today on down-ballot races show even greater numbers of residual or lost votes on the type of touch-screen machines New York is considering.

View Graph

This data, provided by Professor David Kimball of the University of Missouri, one of the nation’s foremost authorities on voting system usability and a collaborator with the Brennan Center on its voting system analysis, shows that on average, the votes of 15.4% of voters using full faced touch screen machines were not counted for state ballot initiatives in 2004; by contrast, only 8.8% of voters using optical scan machines did not have votes counted for state ballot initiatives. The research finds that this difference in residual vote rate was significant regardless of vendor.

This discrepancy appears to be particularly high among low-income voters. Discriminatory residual vote rates may prompt court challenges. The Brennan Center successfully sued for modifications to New York’s current lever machines based on discriminatory residual vote rates in 2000.

“The touch-screen machines being considered by the New York City Board of Elections are a disaster. They are too large, too expensive and now we learn, won’t count many voters’ intended choices. The Board of Elections needs to reject touch-screen machines and purchase optical scan equipment,” said Barbara Bartoletti, Legislative Director of the New York League of Women Voters.

“This data should sound the alarm for anyone who cares about accurate elections in New York City. Put simply: if we buy touch screen machines thousands of voters will be disenfranchised,” said Bo Lipari, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting.

“Over the next few weeks the New York City Board of Elections will be making decisions about voting machines that we will live with for a generation; it is crucial that they get this right. This data suggests that touch-screen machines would be a huge mistake for New York City,” said Neal Rosenstein, Government Reform Coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). Background

Brennan Center for Justice Expertise on Electronic Voting

The Brennan Center for Justice is one of the nation’s leading expert institutions on electronic voting.

• On June 28, 2006, the Brennan Center released a report by its Voting System Security Task Force on the security of electronic voting systems. The Task Force was composed of internationally renowned government, academic, and private-sector scientists, voting machine experts and security professionals; together, they conducted the nation's first systematic analysis of security vulnerabilities in the three most commonly purchased electronic voting systems. The Task Force spent more than a year conducting its analysis and drafting its report, The Machinery of Democracy: Protecting Elections in an Electronic World.

• On August 28, 2006, the Brennan Center released a report and policy proposals regarding the performance of various voting systems and their ability to allow voters to cast valid ballots that reflect their intended choices without undue delay or burdens. This system quality is known as “usability.” Following several high-profile controversies in the last few elections – including most notoriously, the 2000 controversy over the “butterfly ballot” in Palm Beach – voting system usability is a subject of utmost concern to voters and election officials. The Machinery of Democracy: Voting System Usability.

• The Brennan Center works with Members of Congress in support of national legislation to assure that electronic systems are acccurate and accessible. The Center supports legislation to require an audited paper trail and a ban on wireless components in all electronic voting systems.

The Brennan Center’s work on electronic voting is available here.



The Machinery of Democracy: Voting System Security, Accessibility, Usability, and Cost


The Machinery of Democracy: Voting System Usability


The Machinery of Democracy: Protecting Elections in an Electronic World (Full Report)


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