To: The Governmental Operations Committee, Technology in Government Committee,
New York City Council
From: David Finkelstein
Date: January 29, 2007
My name is David Finkelstein, and I live in Brooklyn, New York. I urge you to vote on Resolution 131 to pass it from committee to the floor of the New York City Council. Every voice must be heard, to urge the New York City Board of Elections to adopt paper ballots and optical scanners as our new voting machines. I am opposed to the use of electronic voting machines, also known as DREs.
I have many reasons to prefer paper ballots over DREs, but, for me, one of the most important reasons is that the inherent, unfixable security problems of DREs mean that, if the city were to choose DREs as our voting machines, every future election result would be under a permanent cloud of suspicion. Voters in New York would cease to have full confidence that their votes were counted accurately, and that the election results were correct.
I know that New York requires DREs to produce a voter-verified paper printout, but the Brennan Center for Justice's report "The Machinery of Democracy" explained that this printout can also be tampered with. Unlike paper ballots/optical scanners, the paper printout in a DRE is not a legal ballot and may not represent the vote that the DRE is actually recording. A study quoted by the Brennan report found that test voters in a study found only 3 out of 108 errors in the voter-verifiable printout. Timing studies conducted by the State Board of Elections in November, 2006 were marred by failure to instruct voters to verify the printout -- this means that if we get DREs, we may have too few of them. When voters are in the booth trying to inspect their printout, they may not have enough time because of pressure from people who are still waiting to vote. In contrast, I feel confident that voters marking a paper ballot will not mark the wrong candidate.
Jonathan Simon, a lawyer with the Election Defense Alliance, recently wrote "there is a remarkable degree of consensus among computer scientists, security professionals, government agencies, and independent analysts that U.S. electronic vote tallying technology is vulnerable to unintentional programming errors and to deliberate manipulation."
Many problems across the nation with the November, 2006 election indicate why DREs are not capable of providing trustable results. For example, in Sarasota County, Florida, 18,000 ballots on DREs registered no vote at all, but officials say the machines "do not record the level of detail" needed to be able to trace and correct the problem. In Jefferson County, Texas, voters on DREs complained that the machine was switching their vote to the opposing candidate.
Nationwide, Jonathan Simon believes that the 4% discrepancy between the exit polls and the official vote results on November 7 is far outside the margin of error of the polls, and that problems with DREs are largely responsible.
Optical scanners, on the other hand, work with paper ballots, which are much easier to secure than the invisible electronic ballots produced by DREs. With paper ballots, it is easier to produce election results which the people of New York will trust and respect. As a result of this trust, government will be able to function more effectively.