Verified Voting advocate explains voting machine options
By PENNY STICKNEY, Dispatch Staff Writer
ONEIDA - A forum was held Wednesday night about the Help America Vote Act at the city hall. Bo Lipari of New Yorkers for Verified Voting presented the pros and cons of the paper ballot and optical scan voting machine.
According to the act, each state must have a new voting system in place to replace lever machines by election time in 2007. However, new machines for handicapped voters must be in place by voting time in 2006. Currently, New York is the only state that has not replaced lever machines. A recent piece of legislation passed down from Albany states that each county is responsible for deciding on its own which type of machine it will use. The choice of machine must be approved by the state before it is put in use.
"The state tossed this hot potato around for a long time and decided last week it would fall on the county," said Mike DeBottis.
There are two types of machines from which the county can choose, the direct recording electronic (DRE), or electric touch screen/push button, or paper ballots and optical scanners. All voting equipment must be accessible to the disabled, Lipari said. The lever machine currently in use cannot be made accessible to disabled.
"I'm here to advocate for the optical scan," said Lipari. Advocates for the DRE machines did not show. "I have no financial interest whatsoever in any voting machine company .... I don't make a dime no matter what equipment you folks decide to purchase."
Lipari began by talking about DRE machines. With paperless DRE machines, a vote is recorded directly on the machine by touching the screen or pushing a button. Since these machines are paperless, votes are recorded all day and stored in the machine's memory. The results are counted at the end of the day and the totals are printed out or sent via modem to the central server. There is no paper recording of the votes at any point, Lipari said.
"It's simply unacceptable because there's no way to know if your vote is correct because there's no way to track it," Lipari said.
Another type of DRE is a Voter Verifiable Paper Ballot in which voters see a printout of their vote before leaving the machine. The printout is then stored and treated like a traditional ballot which cannot be thrown out or changed by the voting system, Lipari said. The printout is a small slip of paper, similar to an ATM receipt, which would be hard to read, verify and recount.
The advantages of these machines are that all DREs provide accessibility options that allow people to vote independently and there is a measure of convenience and familiarity since the machine is similar to that of a lever machine. DREs also offer large measures of convenience for election officials and poll workers because they consolidate a lot of mechanisms into single machines.
The other choice of machine is paper ballots and optical scanner. With this machine, voters fill out a paper ballot, similar to an SAT test or a form from the Department of Motor Vehicles, in a privacy booth, or a table with a curtain around it. The scanner is flexible, so the voter would not need to completely fill the hole, a voter could mark a circle with a check. Next, the voter carries the ballot in a privacy cover, or a manilla folder, to the optical scanner, which is simply an electronic counting machine. The scanner pulls the ballot out of the privacy cover and scans it, Lipari said.
If the voter has filled in too many spaces for a specific spot, or not filled in enough spaces, the scanner will tell the voter. The voter would then have the opportunity to fix the ballot by talking to a poll worker and get the ballot replaced. A ballot is not counted until it has been dropped into the storage container to which the scanner is attached, so the voter would have the opportunity to correct the ballot, Lipari said. The ballot can also be inserted into the scanner in any direction, including upside down or backwards.
"The scanner is very forgiving," said Lipari.
Only one optical scanner would be required at each polling place.
"This is not some new system, it's proven technology," said Lipari. "It is used by 46 percent of counties, by 35 percent of voters. This is reliable, mature technology."
Handicapped voters would use a ballot marking device, or a machine which scans the ballot. The device can provide the same accessibility as DREs, Lipari said. If vision-impaired or blind, the voter can use earphones to listen as the device reads the choices off. The screen also has options to provide text and background contrast. Mobility-impaired voters can use the sip and puff interface in which a breathing control moves the cursor along the screen. Similar features are available on the DRE machines.
"When they're done voting, it simply marks the ballot," said Lipari. "The voter can take the now completed ballot to the scanner."
If the voter wants to verify the ballot, it can be inserted back into the device to allow the device to read the choices marked on the completed ballot to the voter. The device does not count or record votes in any way, so the voter must use the optical scanner.
"Any voter could choose to use this machine that wanted to," said Lipari.
The advantages of the optical scanner are that the act of filling the ballot out with a pen makes it inherently voter verified and it's easy and intuitive for voters and for poll workers, said Lipari. Since they are paper ballots, they can be easily recounted by hand. It's also easy to provide additional voting booths, since they are essentially tables surrounded by curtains for privacy, whereas adding additional booths with a DRE would mean additional machines.
Lipari's concerns with DRE machines came from problems during past elections. During the November 2003 election in Boone County, Ind., the machines counted 144,000 votes when only 19,000 voters were registered in the county. After the votes were corrected, officials found that only 5,352 ballots had been cast. Other counties using optical scanners reported little to no problems.
In the case of a power outage, both types of machines have back-up batteries to last a few hours, Lipari said. However, if electricity did not come back after that time, voting during that day would have to be stopped with DRE machines because the machines would have to be taken down. However, ballots could still be cast with paper ballots and optical scanners, they just could not be counted and checked for overvotes and undervotes by the scanners. To prepare for this type of situation, 100 to 110 percent of ballots would have to be available at each polling site for optical scanners to account for absentee ballots, affidavits and emergency ballots. For DREs, 30 percent of ballots for registered voters would have to be provided, said Lipari.
Optical scanners are also easier and cheaper to store, Lipari said. DREs are much larger, weighing 228 pounds per machine. Both machines require climate controlled storage, but DRE take up much more space at over six feet high. Optical scanners are much smaller, about the size of a school desktop, and could be stacked six or 10 on top of each other.
ŠThe Oneida Daily Dispatch 2005
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