The New York Times

February 23, 2006


Voter Groups See Flaws in Plan to Upgrade Balloting



ALBANY, Feb. 22 Voter advocacy groups contended on Wednesday that New York was moving forward with a flawed proposal to modernize its voting system that could lead to widespread security problems on Election Day.


Next week, the State Board of Elections is scheduled to discuss proposed regulations for the brands and types of voting machines that will be certified for this fall's elections. Legislation passed last year allows local election boards to choose their own machines as long as they meet the state board's standards.


But the advocacy groups said the measures did not require enough tests to see if the machines would work or independent tests to determine if hackers could penetrate the machines' security systems.


Tests conducted by other states, including California, have found that nearly 20 percent of the machines tested did not count votes properly, said Bo Lipari, the executive director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, a nonprofit advocacy group.


New York's efforts to improve its voting system took on added urgency last month after the federal government threatened to sue the state, saying it lagged behind every other state in complying with new guidelines stemming from the 2000 presidential election dispute.


Advocates have long urged the state to modernize its voting system faster. But they warn that rushing the process at this late date will leave the state vulnerable to widespread confusion this fall, when voters go to the polls to choose a United States senator, a governor and all 212 state legislators.


"In other states, they've lost thousands of votes on Election Day," said Aimee Allaud, an elections researcher with the League of Women Voters of New York State. "Voters here are not dumb. If we're using new equipment, we have to get to the point during elections when we're confident that equipment works."


The Board of Elections still needs to review public comments before making any decision during its meeting on Monday, said Robert Brehm, a spokesman for the board.


Under the proposed regulations, each voting machine vendor would be required to run a test for the state to determine whether the machine functions and is secure. Counties could conduct their own tests with voters, but are not required to do so.


In some cases, the state test could be waived, a proposal that Mr. Lipari sharply criticized. Mr. Brehm said the waiver would be granted only if the vendor had conducted tests for federal election officials. "In all cases, we've got to have some kind of independent testing," Mr. Brehm said. "If you've already provided evidence of a similar test at the federal level, then why test it twice?"


Some municipalities, including New York City, have said they are unlikely to be able to get the new machines up and running by the Sept. 12 primaries. John Ravitz, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, said he planned to ask the state to conduct more security testing and a trial run to ensure that the machines function properly.


"Common sense would say that if this is not going to work in New York City, it is not going to work with other large cities," Mr. Ravitz said. "Everyone needs to take a breath and say, 'Let's make sure that we do this in a proper way.' "


Rachel Leon, the executive director of Common Cause of New York, warned that lobbying efforts could affect decisions on which voting machines are approved and what kind of contracts vendors receive. Under new state laws, lobbyists are required to report their efforts to obtain contracts for clients, but the state's lobbying commission has said the laws are unclear and may not be enforced this year. So far only two vendors, Liberty Election Systems and Sequoia Voting Systems, have reported that they have hired lobbyists to procure contracts, she said.


Copyright 2006The New York Times Company



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