Dan Jacoby

Oral testimony to the NYC Board of Elections

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Last week, I attended the excellent voting machine demonstrations, and got to see and operate all five voting systems vying for eligibility in New York. I took my time voting on all the machines, went around the room several times, and asked the vendors lots of questions. Based on my direct experiences with all five voting systems, I have reached the following conclusion.

Neither DRE system should be adopted.

A major problem with both DREs is difficulty of use at several stages of the voting process.

First, neither touchscreen is sufficiently receptive to the touch. The Avante VoteTrakker’s touchscreen is at least consistent, but it is difficult to use, requiring far more pressure than should be necessary, especially for frail or elderly people. I am neither frail nor elderly, yet I had many problems getting my choices to register. The Sequoia Advantage’s touchscreen is woefully inconsistent – sometimes a hard touch goes unregistered, while at other times even a light brush against the screen registers as a choice.

Second, neither system has proper on-screen instructions for finalizing the vote after a paper record is produced. People are used to pulling a lever in order to finish their voting process; both machines require that the voter touch an on-screen “button”, but neither machine fully explains that at the proper time. Many voters will be confused, thinking that once the paper record is produced, their voting process is completed. They will not actually verify that the paper record is accurate, nor will they complete their own voting process before leaving the booth.

Third, once a paper record is produced, neither system explains on-screen how to change one’s mind. Many voters will be unaware that they have the option to make changes, and others who are aware of that fact will not know how to do it.

While the second and third objections can be mitigated by thorough instructions to the voters, it raises the problem of requiring thorough instructions. The more complex a voting system is from the voter’s point of view, the more likely voters are to choose not to vote, or to end up casting their vote inaccurately. Additionally, poll workers will need far more extensive training, and many more voters will require the assistance of poll workers in order to cast their votes.

Both systems have other significant problems.

In both systems, there is no separation between paper records that are accepted and those that are rejected. They are collected together, and must be painstakingly separated by hand.

The Sequoia Advantage does print “Accepted” or “Voided” in fairly large print on each paper record, but the process of separating the accepted and voided paper records by hand is onerous at best. The Avante VoteTrakker is far worse – an auditor must peer at very small type, searching for a long tracking number with another number in parentheses after it, then search for other paper records with the same long tracking number in order to separate them.

The Sequoia Advantage has a further problem that, by itself, renders the system patently unfair and therefore, in my opinion, unusable. There is not one screen, but four, separated by a large plastic divider. Whenever many candidates are vying for the same office, some of the candidates will be separated from the others by that divider. Voters are far less likely even to look at candidates below the divider, making it extremely difficult for those candidates to get the votes they deserve.

Additionally, both DREs have a larger footprint than the current lever machines, and many polling places, mine included, simply don’t have room even if we do a one-for-one replacement, which is utterly impossible in many cases. Finding new polling places will be such an enormous task that there will not be time to set them up and inform the voters of the change.

Finally, the cost factor is prohibitive. Taking into account the recent NYC Board of Elections study, and adjusting for additional factors such as higher voter turnout, peak voting times, disabled voters and machine breakdowns, we will probably need one DRE for every 200 eligible voters. The total cost will be close to $160 million, compared with optical scanner and AutoMark ballot-marking device costs of less than $40 million.

We have a choice of three optical scan systems. Based entirely on my experience casting votes on all three, there is no doubt in my mind that the best choice is the ES&S M-100. Briefly, it is because that machine is the easiest to use, with some additional features that help in many ways.

Of the three optical scan systems, the worst is the Sequoia Optech Insight. The Sequoia Optech Insight has three fatal flaws.

First, on the ballot voters do not fill in a circle or ellipse. Instead, they must fill in a space between two ends of an arrow. While less of a mark may be needed, and several types of marks that would not be sufficient on the other two optical scan systems work very well on this machine, it is much harder to find the space that needs to be marked, and it is therefore harder to vote.

Second, when a voter has an undervote (or an overvote) and wishes to override the warning and cast a ballot, a poll worker must push a button. The voter cannot complete the process by him- or herself. This is absolutely unacceptable. Voters must be able to complete their own voting process without needing a poll worker’s assistance for what will be a common occurrence. The presence of poll workers at the scanner can be intimidating, especially to older, first-time, or immigrant voters.

Third, the Sequoia optical scan system does not interact with the Automark ballot marking device for disabled voters; these voters will be required to use a DRE. I have already listed many of the problems with the DREs under consideration.

Of the other two optical scan systems, the ES&S system is the better choice.

Primarily, the difference between the two systems lies in how they handle a voter’s choice to override the warning of an undervote or overvote. The Diebold AccuVote OS requires the voter to push a handle that sticks out from the machine. This handle is difficult to use, and subject to being broken off. In contrast, the ES&S M-100 merely requires the voter to touch the button on the machine itself that is located right under the choice to override.

Additionally, the ES&S M-100 has several minor features that make it a better machine. For instance, there is a separate box in which ballots can be placed if there is a power failure that outlasts the battery life. This separate box is normally locked, and must be unlocked by poll workers in order to use, thus preventing a voter from accidentally placing a ballot there. Also, any ballot with an overvote that won’t be counted (that is, the specific office for which there is an overvote won’t be counted, and all other offices will be counted) is set aside so that auditors can easily verify the overvote.

Of the three optical scan systems, the ES&S M-100 is the easiest to use and has the best overall features. Therefore, I recommend the ES&S M-100 as the final choice.

In conclusion, let me stress that all three optical scanners are far better choices than either DRE. They are easier to use, easier to verify and audit, and far less expensive to purchase and to maintain. Whatever choice you make, please make sure you choose an optical scan system and not a DRE.

Thank you.