Christopher Marshall


Statement to the Election Commissioners of New York City

November 21, 2006


Good evening. Thank you for allowing me to speak before you.  My name is Christopher Marshall. I am a biochemist by training with a doctoral degree from the Rockefeller University here in NYC.  Apart from doing research, I have worked in finance, and I am currently the founder and president of a start-up biotech company.  I am here -- as a concerned individual -- to present my position on the choice between Paper Ballots & Optical Scanning and Direct Recording Electronic voting systems that will be implemented in NYC as of 2007. 


I am advocating the Paper Ballots & Optical Scanning systems, because I believe it is a wiser choice to use a less finicky, well established technology. Paper Ballots & Optical Scanning systems accomplish as much as, or more than, the more sophisticated, but less reliable and secure DRE machines.  This is underscored by experiences of voters and election officials in other states in the recent past.


In addition to serious concerns regarding transparency, reliability, and security of DRE systems that others will surely expand on, I would like to draw your attention to the cost issues surrounding equipment acquisition, maintenance, replacement, and operation, and also to other costs, such as the cost of potential litigation, that I believe should be considered in this decision.


  1. The purchase cost of a system for the City of New York will be dependent on the cost of the individual unit and the number of units that will be needed.  The number of units, that will be required for fair and efficient elections, depends on many factors, but primarily on how many voters each unit can serve.  The unit cost of an Optical Scanner is less than that of a DRE, and Optical Scanner units are estimated to serve many more voters on a voting day.  DREs for the City of New York may cost between $105 and $135 million, whereas Optical Scanners and accessible ballot marking devices may cost between $30 and $40 million – a 3- to 4-fold difference, with the cost of PBOS between $65 and $105 million less, a savings between 65% and 75% - a great bargain.


  1. Furthermore, DRE have expected life span of about 5-10 years, whereas PBOS units are projected to remain in service between 15 and 20 years.  Therefore, over time, we have another cost differential between 50% and 400%, so that the equipment cost of these machines may actually differ between 4.5- and 16-fold.


If this decision were up to thrifty housekeepers, and if the two systems were otherwise even comparable with regard to reliability, security, and transparency, we wouldn’t be having these hearings, and you certainly wouldn’t need to hear the rest of my presentation.  --  But there’s more.


  1. I have not been able to find similar projections for maintenance costs in NYC, but I would like to draw your attention to the Maryland example.  In Maryland, DRE’s were purchased under the assumption, vetted by their Board of Elections, that maintenance costs of these machines would run approximately $850,000 a year.  This turned out to be a gross underestimate -- the actual cost turned out to be more than 10-times that amount: $9 1/2 million.  This and other miscalculations badly damaged the credibility of the State’s Board of Elections, and made it impossible for the General State Assembly to make fiscally informed decisions.  This had significant ramifications in Maryland, that I’m sure we all hope to avoid in our state.


  1. Finally, due to the complexities of DREs that run secret software, and cannot adequately be tended to by your regular poll-workers who mostly don’t have higher degrees is computational systems, the need for private technicians on election day must be considered as a real cost, as well. 


If any Board members are interested, I’ll be happy to help calculate the Net Present Value of the potential savings achievable over the next 10 years by choosing a PBOS system over the alternative.


Thank you very much for listening.