The Legislative Gazette

The Weekly Newspaper of the New York State Government


Optical vote scan machines cheaper, more accurate, group says



Gazette staff writer


April 20, 2005


A voting machine cost comparison was released last week by New Yorkers for Verified Voting in their efforts to push for optical scan machines over the direct recording electronic machines.


“Optical scan voting systems are a reliable, mature, auditable, and cost effective technology,” said the Director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, Bo Lipari. “It’s a mistake for New York to spend over $200 million on untested, unauditable, problem prone DRE’s, when a proven system like optical scanners can be adopted for a fraction of the purchase and maintenance costs.”


The call for an optical scan voting machine comes amidst an entire New York State voting system overhaul in order to comply with the congressional Help America Vote Act to secure nearly $250 million in federal funds.


“New Yorkers for Verified Voting is a grass-roots citizen organization. ... We have a network of activists that work all around the state. We have no funding and no connections to any vendor or organization, we are self-funded,” Lipari said, pointing out that his organization only wants fair and accountable elections and has no other interests vested in the issue.


“Precinct-based optical scan voting machines with the addition of accessible ballot marking devices will satisfy Help America Vote Act requirements to replace lever voting machines in New York State,” said Aimee Allaud, elections specialist for New York State League of Women Voters. “The League supports optical scan systems because they meet our criteria of secure, accurate, recountable and accessible.”


According to the report released by the voting advocacy group, New York is estimated to save over $100 million through the purchase of optical scanners over DRE touch screen machines. The group also contends that maintenance, transportation and storage costs are all substantially lower than the DRE voting machines, which will save New York even more money in the future.


The report says the minimum life for an optical scan machine is 15 years whereas the DRE lifetime is only five years because of fragile components that are only warranted for five years. The report also says that 50 percent or more of the DRE machines that need to be replaced within the five years will not be covered by HAVA funds and will become the responsibility of individual counties. The state of Oklahoma uses an optical scan system and for the past 14 years has not replaced a single machine.


However, in Miami-Dade County, Florida, election officials are considering scrapping their $24.5 million touch-screen system after only three years. The election officials are opting in favor of a paper-based ballot. The complicated computerized voting system has baffled poll workers and glitch-prone machines have more than tripled Election Day costs in the region, according to county officials.


The total acquisition costs for New York State, not including Nassau County, is $218,586,500 for a DRE system, and $109,719,420 for an optical scan system, saving a total cost of $108,867,080. Lipari contends the Nassau County numbers will be similar to Suffolk County, both counties contain some of the largest numbers of registered voters in the state and will bring the total cost savings up to nearly $120 million for the state.


Critics of optical scan systems say the full-face ballots for every voter will drive the long-term costs up, citing quotes of 70 cents up to $1 to print each ballot.


Lipari dismisses this notion. He cited quotes from other states that have used optical scanners for over a decade with a cost of only 10 to 20 cents per ballot. Lipari said he believes corporate interests are influencing policy makers throughout the state because voting machine manufacturers want to sell the latest and most expensive technology.


Thirty percent of precincts across the United States now use optical scan technology. The states of Arizona, Michigan, Ohio, Rhode Island and West Virginia have all switched to optical scanners in order to comply with HAVA mandates.

Other advocacy groups have given their support for optical scan systems over the DRE systems.


“The Sierra Club members who vote for environmentally minded political candidates want to make sure every vote is counted. That’s why the Sierra Club supports paper ballot based optical scan voting systems. They’re the most transparent, reliable, practical way to ensure that every vote counts,” said Sarah Kogel-Smucker, a legislative associate from the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.


In recent months optical scan machines have rapidly gained widespread support. Prior to last January, optical scanners were not even heard of in New York.


“Optical Scanners were not even considered a few months ago,” said Assemblywoman Sandra R. Galef, D,I,WF-Ossining. She continued, saying there are now 25 sponsors in the Assembly for optical scanners, both Democrat and Republican, but there is no Senate companion bill.


Agreeing with Lipari, Galef believes that corporate interests were fueling previous support for DRE machines. Lobbyists and the president of ES&S, a voting machine manufacturer, told her that New York State was a touch-screen machine state.


She responded by saying, “When was that decision made? We’ve [Legislature] never voted on it, New York doesn’t have a voting system yet.”


Galef represents Putnam County, which is one of the first counties to officially pass a resolution in favor of adopting optical scanners. The Assemblywoman also represents parts of Westchester County, which is considering similar measures.


In her outright support for optical scanners Galef said, “It’s so important to have accountability ... I don’t trust those other machines.”


The debate over what voting machines will replace New York’s lever machines will continue until the state fully complies with all HAVA requirements. The deadline to secure the $250 million will expire January 1, 2006. With recent election debacles, including Sen. Nicholas Spano’s, R,I,C-Westchester, three-month court battle over his Senate seat, New Yorkers are demanding fair and accountable elections without the court’s involvement.


“It’s not just the savings, it’s knowing that your vote is being counted. ... That’s the bottom line in America,” Galef said.


© 2004 Legislative Gazette



This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of political, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.