The Oneida Daily Dispatch
Expert lists paper ballot benefits
By LEEANNE ROOT, Dispatch Staff Writer
BRIDGEPORT - New Yorkers for Verified Voting, a non-partisan organization is lobbying legislators and urging election commissioners to choose paper ballot and optical scanner voting systems over direct electronic recording (DRE) voting systems and NYVV Executive Director Bo Lipari has a laundry list of reasons why.
Verifiability and cost top that list.
The DREs record votes electronically using an electronic touch screen and Lipari said there isn't any physical record of the vote. The machine performs three functions including recording, counting and printing. After voting the voter must verify their choices on what Lipari referred to as an "ATM-style paper printout."
He said the tiny, curly printout is hard to verify, hard to read and even harder to recount.
"The record of your vote exists only in software," Lipari said.
To him, the paper ballot and optical scanner systems are verifiable because a paper ballot is filled out by the voter and placed into the optical scanner that has just one function, to count the votes.
"Paper ballots are inherently voter verified-by filling out the ballot you are verifying," Lipari said. "We use this kind of fill-in-the-bubble system in all walks of life - lottery tickets, SATs, DMV forms."
He said the cost of the machines comes into play largely because of the number of machines needed to replace each lever machine currently in place to be able to handle the same amount of voters.
He noted that with optical scanners machines don't necessarily need to be added to accommodate high volumes of voters, privacy booths can be added because most of the voters time is spent filling out the ballot, not at the optical scanner.
To compare costs, Lipari used a polling place with three lever machines. According to him, that location would require one optical scanner at $6,500, one ballot marker device at $6,500 and six privacy booths at $160 each. The figures are approximate and come to a total of $13,960.
According to Lipari that same polling place would require six DREs at $9,000 each, coming to an approximate total of $54,000.
The costs he presented were just for acquiring the voting systems. He said costs for maintaining DREs are typically high because they have a tendency to malfunction.
Lipari noted an instance in November 2003 in Boone County, Ind. The DRE software reported 144,000 votes, which was obviously inaccurate since there are only 19,000 registered voters in the county. Once corrected the machine indicated that 5,352 votes had actually been cast.
"This ought to be a no-brainer but we're still finding resistance in many election commissioners in New York state," he said.
According to Lipari, Miami Dade County in Fla. experienced problems with the DRE system as well. He said the county spent $24.5 million on DREs and lost hundreds of votes in six elections and the machines cost twice what the county had budgeted.
"The neighboring county spent less than one-third of Miami Dade using optical scanners," he said.
And soon the supervisor of elections and the governor recommended scrapping the DREs and replacing them with optical scanners.
"Do you really want to vote on a computer?" Lipari asked the audience after his laptop crashed in the middle of his presentation. "I can't get through my presentation-imagine trying to get through a whole election day."
But why replace a system that has worked for years?
Lipari says that HAVA of 2002 provided money to states to replace the older lever systems and accepting that money was "tantamount to agreeing to replace the machines."
He also said that state law mandates the replacement of the lever machines.
"HAVA is intended to improve accessibility to disabled individuals," Lipari said noting that lever machines are not highly accessible.
He said that optical scanner systems come with a ballot marker which is accessible to all. Blind voters can use headphones that provide an audio menu and a sip and puff interface using an air tube placed in the mouth of voters is available for those who need it. Lipari noted that the ballot marker does not count the votes, it is simply an accessibility aid. The ballot is still counted with all the rest by the optical scanner.
Lipari said that the DRE system is accessible to disabled voters as well.
According to HAVA, the state was supposed to have replaced the lever machines in September 2006. But Lipari said New York is no closer today than it was in September to reaching certification of voting systems.
Lipari said that November elections came and went and voters in New York "voted just as they always had on the lever machines."
The target date for replacement was then moved to December 2006 and again to March 2007.
"We aren't even close to knowing what machines we can pick-commissioners cannot place orders until machines are certified," he said.
And because the certification process was halted in January, Lipari doubts that a new system will be in place for the 2008 federal primary elections slated for February.
He said the company chosen to certify the machines, Colorado-based Ciber, was decertified by the federal authorities when it had completed only about 20 to 25 percent of the testing. And no one seems to know when the testing will continue or if the state will use Ciber or go with another certification company.
"This is a non-partisan issue; everybody who has an interest in fair voting should be concerned," Lipari said, urging people to contact their legislators to "weigh in" on the issue.
ŠThe Oneida Daily Dispatch 2007