The Journal News.


Watchdog warns of risk to state election law




(Original Publication: June 16, 2007)


ALBANY - A key protection against fraud in any new voting-machine system the state authorizes could be endangered by a last-minute attempt to change a state law, government watchdogs said yesterday.


"This is something they're trying to slip in through the back door," said Bo Lipari of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, a watchdog group.


At stake is a law that requires the state to have possession of key computer information known as the source code that would allow state officials to ensure that it is not tampered with and to easily check computer functions in case of problems. Lipari said a move is under way to remove that requirement.


The lever machines the state uses now aren't computerized, but the Board of Elections is in the process of authorizing counties to buy either touch-screen or optical-scan devices, both of which use computers, to replace them.


The problem, Lipari said, is that some of the companies in the running for the multimillion-dollar contracts to provide the new machines use Microsoft software, and Microsoft does not want the state or anyone else to have control of what it considers proprietary information.


The Albany lobbyist for Microsoft, Jay Summerson, confirmed that Microsoft is very protective of such information.


"The way Coca Cola protects formula for Coke Classic, Windows operating system is no different," he said, referring to a key piece of Microsoft software. "When you have a business model built on intellectual property, allowing it to get into the wrong hands, companies like Microsoft work 24-7 to protect against."


Lipari said a bill to correct technical mistakes in legislation that moved the Democratic presidential primary to Feb. 5 would include a clause to remove the requirement that the state have access to the key computer information.


That bill, which had not yet been printed as of late yesterday, is expected to be taken up next week.


Summerson said Microsoft is not involved in any attempts to get legislation passed.


Jeffrey Buley, a lobbyist for Sequoia Voting Systems, one of the bidders for supplying new voting machines that uses Microsoft software, didn't return a call seeking comment.


Assembly spokesman Charles Carrier confirmed yesterday that the Assembly is working on a bill to fix technical mistakes in the presidential-primary measure and trying to ensure that voting machines in use for that vote will meet federal requirements.


But he said that no one has presented proposed changes in who controls the voting-machine software and that the Assembly likely wouldn't be receptive to such changes.


"We think our current law is a model for the nation and makes us less likely to run into problems like Florida and Ohio have had," he said.


Copyright 2007 The Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper serving Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties in New York. All rights reserved.