Testimony before the Governmental Operations
Technology in Government Committees
of the New York City Council
January 29, 2007
Today Iíd like to talk about what will happen on election day when the inevitable occurs Ė some of the new electronic voting equipment fails.
I honestly donít know what rate of failure we can expect with optical scanners, but it is a safe bet that some of them will fail, and we can predict what will happen. Voters will continue to receive the paper ballots when they check in. Voters will continue to mark their ballot in a privacy booth.
The only difference will be that voters will cast their ballots in a secure ballot box rather than through the optical scanner, so they wonít get overvote or undervote notification.
With DREs, the result of machine failure is dramatically different.
Based on the experience of other jurisdictions, itís a good bet that DREs will fail at the 9.2% rate allowed by federal standards. This may add up to 1,000 machine failures on election day. As the Carter-Baker report noted, ďDREs are computers, and computers malfunction.Ē
In a pollsite with multiple DREs, when one or two go down, the voters will wait longer to vote. Some will not be able to wait. They will have to leave, and lose their vote.
If all the DREs in a pollsite go down, emergency paper ballots will be given to voters. Will emergency privacy booths be available too, so the ballots can be filled out privately? It will take some time to set up the booths. Poll workers will have to stop signing voters in while they deal with the switch to paper ballots, and lines to sign in will get longer. Again, more people will have to leave and be denied their right to vote.
This past November when I arrived to vote I was third in line, and just then the lever machine failed to operate correctly. At first, the poll workers, whom I have seen at every election for over a decade, didnít know what to do. While they tried to fix the machine, I requested a paper ballot. First they said they didnít know if they had any paper ballots, and when I insisted that paper ballots are needed to satisfy the requirement for emergency ballots Ė we had to search for them. These were experienced poll workers, and things were a mess. Fortunately, shortly after the paper ballots were found, they were able to fix the machine, but that wonít be so easy with DREs.
The federally allowed failure rate of 9.2% is about one in eleven DREs failing on election day. The result, based on my experience with lever machine failure, will be chaos.
With these scenarios in mind, I urge you to send Resolution 131 to the full City Council for a vote. We need to make sure everyone understands that a precinct-based optical scan system is far superior to any DRE system.