NY asked to reject ATM-style voting machines

Legislative Gazette Staff Writer
Mon, Sep 24, 2007

As the New York State Board of Elections is expected

to start the bidding for contracts with voting machine manufacturers, good-government groups last week made another attempt to keep touch-screen voting devices out of the state.

Direct Recording Electronic voting machines, or DREs, are unfit for providing access to disabled voters, argues Bo Lipari, executive director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting. 

Lipari was part of a panel of advocates who pointed out the potential problems they say would result from the state using such machines as ballot counters ¯ most importantly, they don’t leave any kind of “trail” to verify how votes were cast.

According to Lipari, DREs ¯ which operate much like ATM machines ¯ use a “voter verified paper audit trail” as the ballot, which has no scanning and audio verification component.

“How does a voter with visual disabilities verify that the contents of that ballot are correct?” Lipari asked. “There is no way to do it.”

On Aug. 28, the Board of Elections proposed to allow DREs in polling places in 2008. The state is attempting to comply with the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which set national accessibility standards for voting and required all states to implement electronic ballot systems. For the 2006 elections, New York state installed one Ballot Marking Device, or BMD, in every county. These machines print out a marked ballot that can then be scanned and read back over audio, allowing the voter to correct any discrepancies.  Lipari says this was a step in the right direction that should be expanded instead of allowing DREs to function as ballot markers.

“This is a backdoor effort to get failed touch screen voting technologies into our polling places,” he said, accusing the Board of Elections of hastily moving to accept the machines without proper testing.

Lipari and company were especially critical of Board of Elections Co-Executive Director Peter Kosinski’s statement that the DREs in question would be subjected to a “truncated certification process.” The board of elections did not return a phone call in time for publication.

“The board is saying ‘oh don’t worry, when we finish the full certification process and if the DRE is not certified, then we will not be able to use it in later years,’” said NYPIRG Legislative Counsel Russ Haven. “Once the counties have spent multiple millions of dollars … does anyone seriously believe that next year, the state board will say, ‘sorry, you can’t use them because they didn’t pass our test?’”

League of Women Voters Elections Specialist Aimee Allaud was also on hand to advocate the use of optical scanning devices. The league has been a longtime proponent of BMDs, even pushing for legislation last February to make them mandatory for the whole state.

“Scanners are a proven technology, and you’ve heard us say that for the last three years,” Allaud said. She also said the devices are cost-effective, claiming that one machine costs between $5,000 and $6,000, as opposed to a DRE, which can cost about $10,000.

However, the higher price of DREs, Lipari believes, is also a motivator for the companies that sell them.

“Here in New York state, if you look at multiple millions of dollars that vendors have spent lobbying … it’s clear that there is an agenda on the part of the vendors to sell the more profitable touch-screen voting machines,” he said.

DREs are ATM-like machines that the panelists said are intended for use in vote-counting, not for direct voting. The New Yorkers for Verified Voting press conference featured a map of the U.S. highlighting states that experienced mismatched printouts, ink and paper shortages and paper jams with their touch-screen voting systems.

“The board would allow DREs to create a paper trail that would essentially be the ballot,” explained Haven. “As you know from your ATM experience, that kind of heat-sensitive paper … that’s not exactly a good paper trail.”

Allaud said that only about 1,000 people in New York voted on a BMD last election, so the machines are still too new here to have a proven track record. However, she said other states have had success with scanning devices, pointing to Michigan’s use of the Automark system.

Cliff Perez, systems advocate for the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley, was a bit more cautious about the limits of BMDs.

“The ballot marking machine has great potential to be made much more accessible than the DRE but they do require some work,” he said. “We still need to make sure that the optical scanner can give different information for people who are blind to know that, when they put the paper in, the information is all correct.”

Lipari mentioned that New Mexico, Maryland, and Florida are considering abandoning their multimillion-dollar investments in the machines.

“The financial investments now will ultimately drive the decisions for the technology that we have to use for the next generation or two,” said Haven. “We don’t want the money that we invest now to be a temporary fix to a long-term decision.


© 2007 Legislative Gazette