By KYLE MILLER
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