New Voting Machines for New York

(Counties may have to choose new equipment by May 2007; most are deliberating now)


1. Why?

A. The federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires one voting device per poll site to assist voters with disabilities to cast a private, independent vote. HAVA does not ban lever machines.


B. NY’s Election Reform and Modernization Act (ERMA) bans lever machines as of 9/1/07, and requires each county and NYC to choose a new voting technology. ERMA’s 2 options:


(1)   PBOS -- Paper Ballots to be marked by hand (or via ballot-marking devices for voters with disabilities/minority languages), and Optical Scanners in each poll site to check each ballot for correctness before it is cast. The scanner also prints a tally sheet at the end of the day.

(2)   DREs -- “Direct Recording Electronic” voting machines (computers) with a touchscreen. ERMA requires DREs to print a “voter-verified paper trail”, which is a receipt-like list of each voter’s choices for the voter to verify before pressing “Cast Ballot.” The printout stays in the machine, and is used to spot-check 3% of electronic tallies.


2. PBOS is low cost.  DREs take money away from other needs

A. Purchase cost:  PBOS for NYC costs about $30 million, DREs cost over $100 million.

B. Transition/continuing cost:  PBOS costs proportionally less to use.  DRE cost overruns are as

     high as 1000% for maintenance (example, in Maryland).

C. Replacement cost requires county money:  PBOS lasts 15-20 years,  DREs last 5-8 years.

D. Voter/pollworker training cost:  PBOS -- little training is needed.

     DREs – extra technicians needed at pollsites, extra help for voters who can’t use computers.


3. PBOS keeps local control of elections --

low-tech is understandable, manageable, observable.

A. Who will run your elections? Bipartisan election staff can maintain/set up PBOS, but DREs

     have secret software so vendor technicians are the only ones who can do certain parts of the

     work. Local staff cannot oversee the work, because they don’t understand the equipment.

B. Voter/pollworker confusion:  PBOS--Everyone understands paper ballots.

     DREs--Voters and poll workers get confused by computers. Thousands of DRE election errors

     have been blamed on “poorly trained” voters/pollworkers

C. Observers: PBOS lets observers watch election procedures. With DREs voters can’t even see

     their own ballot inside the computer. Observers can’t watch the storage or counting of votes.


4. PBOS is reliable

A. Failure during elections:  PBOS--rare!  DREs--thousands of documented failures!

     (Federal standards allow 9.2% failure rate).

B. Lost votes: If DREs fail, votes can be lost. If scanners fail, votes on paper ballots aren’t lost.


5. PBOS is more secure

A. Wireless communications: Most DREs have this capability, which enables anyone in the

     world to dial into the DRE and alter votes and tallies. ERMA bans wireless communication but

     doesn’t require inspection or enforcement. The NYC BOE says they can’t inspect for this.

B. Verification or Recounts:  PBOS -- easy to recount votes on paper by hand or re-scanning.

     DREs: No election has ever been verified!  No one has ever shown the public that they work!

C. Paper ballots can be guarded by ordinary non-technical citizen observers, and by surveillance

    Cameras with a feed to each political party headquarters. Banks guard paper every day.

6.  PBOS is accessible for disabled and language minorities

A. PBOS systems use Ballot Marking Devices, which are as -- or more -- accessible than DREs.

B. Accessibility is useless if you don’t know if your votes were cast as intended inside the DRE.


7. DREs cause voter cynicism and lawsuits

A. Voters can never view their own legal ballot in the electronic circuits.

B. State law (ERMA) allows a 97% secret unobservable vote count.

C. No one knows what the equipment is doing except the vendor. No one can observe.

D. BOEs cannot uphold their responsibility to conduct elections because vendors do the work.

E. Computer security is impossible to achieve (40 million MasterCards compromised in 2005;

    FBI: In 2005 87% of companies had “security incidents,” 44% had intrusions by insiders).

F. Communications capability in DREs allows tampering by anyone in the world.

G. E-voting undermines democracy: it prevents people from observing election procedures, which is what creates election legitimacy (confidence that procedures were proper and according to law).


8. Who is leading on this issue?

A.     Statewide leaders: New Yorkers for Verified Voting (,  League of Women Voters

B.  Task Force on Election Integrity, Community Church of New York

C.  Endorsers: DC 37, PEF, JPAC, Brooklyn Parents for Peace, NYPIRG, Brennan Center


9. NY City Council -- Two resolutions

A. Res. 131 - Barron - urges adoption of PBOS and opposes adoption of DREs, 43 sponsors

B. Res. 228-A  - Jackson – Bipartisan sponsorship, passed unanimously 8/16/06, urged the BOE to devise a way for the BOE, candidates and parties to verify that equipment is correctly configured, and contains no illegal components (wireless communications). Our BOE says it can’t do this!


10. What to do -- Keep electronic voting out of NYC! – We want PBOS!

Decision makers:

A. County Election Commissioners: the commissioners from the 5 boroughs (one Dem and

     one Repub from each boro) may choose our future voting machines by May, 2007.

B. County Leaders: they designated the commissioners and may advise them what to choose.

C. District Leaders: they elect the county leaders of their party.

D. City Council Members and all elected officials: they have influence:

(1)   They influence selection of county leaders, & should express concerns about this to them.

(2)   If our NYC commissioners deadlock at 5 to 5, the State BOE will make the decision for

             us -- in that case Barron’s City Council Resolution 131 will be HIGHLY influential.

(3)   Ask your Council Member to sponsor Res 131 & to urge Speaker Quinn to bring it a

      passing vote. To get your Council Member, call: League of Women Voters, 212-725-3541


11. Publications and Websites

Daily Voting News

Election Integrity News (weekly)   

NY Voting News   email to   website:


Tampering with paper ballots?

If you can’t protect paper ballots, which you can see,

how are you going to protect electronic ballots, which you can’t see?


Task Force on Election Integrity, Community Church of NY, Teresa Hommel Chair,    2/8/07