Testimony on New Voting Machines

New York City Board of Elections, November 21, 2006, Hearing


My name is Katharine B. Wolpe.  I served as a Democratic District Leader from the East Village of Manhattan for eight years(1975-1983) . Subsequently I have been a poll watcher in numerous elections and been an officer and Executive Committee member with the Village Independent Democrats.  I observed the various voting systems and some of the vendor presentations at the Nov. 15 demonstration at La Guardia Community College in Long Island City.  I am also a retired law librarian with some experience in using computer systems.


Based on my long experience with voting and voters in New York City, I strongly urge that the Board select a system using paper ballots and optical scanners.  Using paper ballots would be far more understandable to many voters and to poll workers.  Paper ballots have been used for many years for absentee voting and for voters whose names cannot be found on the election district registration list.  Senior citizens and language minorities would be able to mark their ballots in privacy booths without delaying other voters, an important factor in encouraging voter participation.  Poll workers, who are often tired and stressed because of their long day and limited training, would also find such a system easier to work with and explain to voters.  Problems with ballot marking are easily visible.  If there are machine breakdowns or electrical problems, voters can still cast their ballots and go on their way.


Another advantage of paper ballot/optical scan systems is security.  The voter fills out a ballot personally, and it is then inserted into the tabulator where the vote is recorded and the paper ballot retained in a locked compartment.  There are built-in components of the tabulators to identify errors and mismarked ballots.  The voter-marked ballots serve as a reliable back-up for recounts.  Computer professionals have spoken out on the relative ease with which electronic voting machines (DREs) can be hacked.  Security is an important element in having a voting system which citizens can trust.   Problems in operating DRE machines and imperfectly recorded DRE votes have already been reported in states (Maryland, Ohio, New Mexico) where they have been used.


A third plus for paper ballot/optical scan systems is cost.  DRE machines have a higher initial cost and less longevity, and with the constant changes in computer technology will need more frequent replacement.  Computerized machines require specialized storage with temperature and humidity controls, which will be more costly than storage of paper records.  More DRE machines will be required to replace the old lever voting machines to accommodate the same number of voters in each polling place.  Breakdowns will require vendor computer technicians to service the machines, another continuing cost.


After reviewing use of electronic voting systems in other states and other analysis, several good government groups have announced their support for paper ballot/optical scan systems.  Keep the faith with New York City voters; choose an economical, reliable, and easily understood and operated paper ballot/optical scan voting system.  New York City deserves the best!