The New York Times

May 8, 2007


Electronic Voting May Be Ready by Fall ’08, Official Says



Despite earlier predictions to the contrary, New York State could well replace its aging voting machines by September 2008, a co-chairman of the New York State Board of Elections said yesterday.


Douglas A. Kellner, one of two board chairmen, said after a Congressional hearing held in City Hall that state officials were now reviewing the voting machines of five companies. He said that while there was little to no chance that new machines would be in place by the state’s presidential primary in February, they could be installed by the November 2008 presidential election and possibly in time for the primary elections for Congress and the State Legislature in September 2008.


Earlier this year, an association of county election officials passed a resolution urging the state to wait until 2009 to install new electronic voting machines. At that time, Mr. Kellner said that most members of the Board of Elections agreed that it would be better if the state did not have to make such sweeping changes amid the 2008 presidential election, when a high turnout is anticipated.


“If the equipment that has been submitted for testing passes, then we will have a timeline that we can meet to have new equipment in place for the 2008 election,” Mr. Kellner said yesterday. “If we certify the new machines by December, they should be able to get most of the system in place for the November 2008 election. And I think the September primary, too.”


Mr. Kellner made his comments after the Congressional hearing held by the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives. The subcommittee chairman, William Lacy Clay Jr. of Missouri, and Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, both Democrats, called together a number of experts on ways for the federal government to ensure the accuracy and security of electronic voting machines.


The issue of replacing the state’s voting machines has been a thorny one over the last few years. New York is the last state to update its voting machines, despite a federal mandate requiring it to do so.


“I believe that New York was correctly cautious about converting their lever machines to electronic ones,” Mr. Clay said. “The old ones apparently have worked pretty well for the State of New York since the 1920s without any major malfunctions. They want to ensure that New York voters’ votes are actually counted correctly. For them to have waited and to have made sure that everything is in place is a good thing.”


Much of the delay in updating the machines has been due to questions about the work of a laboratory that was hired to help test the machines being offered by five bidders.


Mr. Kellner also said that it was unlikely that the Board of Elections would continue its contract with the laboratory, Ciber Inc., the nation’s largest tester of voting machine software.


Earlier this year, the state board suspended Ciber’s work after The New York Times reported that federal officials had found deficiencies in its practices and had stalled its application for temporary accreditation under a new oversight program.


“The decision on whether Ciber continues will be made in the next month,” Mr. Kellner said. “But it is unlikely that Ciber will be continued as the testing authority in New York.”


Mac J. Slingerlend, the president and chief executive of Ciber, testified at yesterday’s hearing, defending the company’s work and stating that the company’s testing followed federal guidelines. He added that the work was complicated by the frequent changes in the guidelines over the last five years. The company has maintained that most of the problems have been fixed.


Several voting machine experts testified yesterday about a number of problems concerning new electronic voting machines, including conflicts of interest in the testing as well as questions about the security and reliability of some of the machines now in use.


“I have come to the conclusion that the federal certification process is not adequate,” said David Wagner, a professor of computer science at the University of California at Berkeley.


“The testing labs are failing to weed out insecure and unreliable voting systems,” Mr. Wagner said in his testimony. “The federal certification process has approved systems that have lost thousands of votes and systems with serious security vulnerabilities.”


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