December 7, 2006
My name is Diana Finch, I am a resident of the Bronx and a member of the Community Church of New York's Task Force on Election Integrity. I am here to ask for the Voter Assistance Commission's help in selecting new voting machines for New York City.
The VAC's role, according to the New York City Charter, is to encourage and facilitate voter registration and voting; its mission to increase participation in the democratic process. The selection of new voting machines needs to be as democratic a process as possible, in which as many New Yorkers as possible participate, and one which will encourage - not discourage -- voting.
An essential requirement, if citizens are to register and to vote, is that they have confidence in the voting system and know that the votes they cast are recorded and counted. For this to happen, elections must be observable, or transparent. An average citizen, one with no special knowledge of computers and technology, must be able to observe and fully understand the procedures, well enough to determine if they are being done honestly and properly.
Most people do not understand computers, which is why we should not delegate elections to computers. If you need an expert to tell whether or not a voting machine worked, the machine is not properly observable and should not be used.
Across our country we have had reports of computers making votes disappear or switch to different candidates. We have reports of computers that print out tallies for hundreds, even thousands of phantom votes -- more votes than voters. Many of these instances involve the same companies now presenting machines for New York to consider. But will people vote if they do not have confidence in the voting equipment? Voter confidence and thus voter participation depends on meaningful observability.
New York State law requires a voter-verifiable paper audit record. This can be a printout made by a touchscreen voting machine to be viewed by the voter and stored in the computer for later verification. However, many voters do not verify their paper printout, many will not be able to do so accurately, and the Brennan Center report "The Machinery of Democracy" detailed how the printouts can be falsified by the computer due to error or malicious software. The state-mandated 3% spot-check of the paper audit records leaves 97% of the computers and the paper records unchecked. I urge the VAC to investigate these matters and to oppose the use of computers to record, cast, store, handle, and count votes. We have the option to use paper ballots completed by the voter and optical scanners which simply count the votes. This is a lower-tech, safer, more understandable and manageable approach.
New Yorkers will have more chances in January to view the voting machines being considered for New York. The VAC should do everything in its power to publicize these opportunities.
During the November 7th election, many news organizations and civic groups in the US provided websites and phone lines where citizens could report and discuss any problems or questions they encountered as they went to vote. The amount of testimony received and the intensity of the discussions remind us all of how passionately Americans care about the right to vote. I request that the VAC investigate whether there are opportunities here in New York for citizens to participate in this way about the selection of the machines, an online forum for people to post their own observations and comment on the machines and their own questions about the huge changes our election system faces.
There are two excellent, free, nonpartisan sources of information on voting and voting machines in the US, email digests and postings of news from all over the country about elections, election law and voting machines: Daily Voting News from VotersUnite.org and the weekly Election Integrity News from VoteTrustUSA.org. These independent, respected sources give us information on where the pitfalls are. Other jurisdictions have spent millions of dollars and rushed ahead to buy and use new equipment. They are now faced with spending millions more to fix equipment that has not worked. If we don't know about their disasters we are sure to make the same mistakes. The VAC can use its respected voice to publicize these resources and urge everyone to be informed.
Testimony respectfully submitted,