The New York Times
January 27, 2007
By CHRISTOPHER DREW
New York officials have given up on replacing the state’s aging voting machines by the fall elections, and some would like to put off buying new electronic voting systems until after the 2008 presidential election, state officials said yesterday.
New York is the last state to update its machines, and the latest delay comes amid growing questions about the work of a laboratory that was hired to help test the machines being offered by five bidders.
Based in part on the problems with the testing lab, the New York State Board of Elections has pushed back its deadline for certifying which machines would be acceptable until at least May.
Given the months it would take for counties to acquire the machines and train poll workers, “that would make it impossible to replace anything more than a few isolated machines for the 2007 elections,” said Douglas A. Kellner, a board co-chairman.
Mr. Kellner said it might be possible to have the new system ready for the presidential primary in March 2008. An association of county election officials passed a resolution last week urging the state to wait until 2009, and Mr. Kellner said most board members agreed that it would be better if the state did not have to make such sweeping changes amid the high turnout of a presidential election.
But because the electronic systems are easier for the disabled to use than the old lever machines, the state was required by Congress and a federal court order to make the changes more quickly. Mr. Kellner said those orders would need to be amended to allow for further delays and to let New York hold on to at least $50 million in federal funds to help pay for the machines.
Mr. Kellner said the elections board was also considering whether to terminate its contract with the testing lab, Ciber Inc., which has also run into trouble with federal officials.
The board suspended Ciber’s work earlier this month after The New York Times reported that federal officials had found deficiencies in its practices and had held up its application for temporary accreditation under a new oversight program.
State election officials then asked Ciber, based in Greenwood Village, Colo., and the federal Election Assistance Commission for the reports about the deficiencies. The company turned them over on Thursday, after state officials threatened to subpoena the documents. The federal commission posted them on its Web site yesterday, along with a letter warning Ciber that it had only four to five more weeks to fix the problems.
According to the documents, a federal auditor found last July that Ciber, the nation’s largest tester of voting machine software, did not follow its own quality-control procedures or conduct all the proper tests.
The documents indicate that in many cases, the lab simply used tests suggested by the voting machine manufacturers, rather than running standardized checks of its own. The auditor also criticized the lab for “acceding too quickly” to requests by the voting machine companies to modify the tests.
Voting machine experts have long been concerned about possible conflicts of interest in the testing, and some say the problems with Ciber have raised questions about the security and reliability of some of the machines now in use.
In a written response to the audit, company officials also acknowledged “relatively loose handling” of meetings during the testing. “Since we are a small group, we often just call each other down the hall for a meeting, especially if something is critical,” the response said.
Ciber’s spokeswoman, Diane C. Stoner, said in a statement yesterday that the company had fixed most of the problems and expected to receive the federal certification.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company