New York City Board of Elections Hearing
re Voting Machines, Tues, Nov 21, 2006
What constructs, constitutes and ensures the practices of democratic voting we count on in everyday life? My name is Pamella Farley; I have taught in the NY public school system as a professor at Brooklyn College for 36 years, where so many of our city’s fine professional, technical, administrative and educational workers have been educated. I am familiar with computers, and the accessibility equipment, mandated by the NY State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped to allow me to keep my job, is computerized. I went to LaGuardia Community College last week and tested the machines with difficulty—due not to being visually handicapped so much as due to the difficulty of functioning on those computerized voting screens and being satisfied that in a glitch my vote could be counted and recounted.
I am concerned with preserving our ballots, not only so they can be accurately cast, and counted, but also so they can be recounted if necessary, so the choices of the citizens can be verified through preservation of the cast ballot. And I am concerned with traceable transparency in the electoral process.
They say the devil is in the details. A niece, two of my sisters, and their families live in Maryland, where Diebold electronic voting machines have been used since 2002. The system cost 106 million dollars. Experience there shows that not only do machines malfunction, but that the public and election board members, and even state officials, have no reliable means of knowing about the nature of the problems and addressing them aside from whatever the company chooses to disclose, and when they choose to disclose it.
It was not until after the 2004 elections that state officials in Maryland learned that the source of the problem of frozen screens was a system boards problem—but documents show that Diebold had diagnosed that problem early in the year! The company did replace 4700 system boards but the Elections Board didn’t even know about it. In Maryland, both the company and the state administrator tried to keep the details of the system board replacement problem quiet. You can read details in the story by Washington Post Staff Writer Cameron W. Barr, for Thursday, October 26, 2006, p B05.
In September's primary, when Diebold's electronic voter-registration machines rebooted without warning in every Maryland precinct, the rebooting was caused by a software defect, which Diebold says has been corrected. But what is the cost of these system errors to the proper functioning of our voting process? Maryland gubernatorial candidates at the time felt they had to call on voters to use absentee ballots.
Members of the election law subcommittee of the House of Delegates called an off-the-record session with company executives to discuss the feasibility of Maryland switching to a system that would provide a paper record of each vote in time for this year's elections; company staff made assurances that everything was “fine, no problem.” Yet the company said there was no problem because they replace and update machines after they fail. Is electronic voting machine failure a mere detail too small to be mentioned?
There are both democrats and republicans in my family; this is a bipartisan issue.
Obviously, we should not put systems in place that cannot be relied upon to give us a paper ballot that can be counted and recounted. And just as important is the transparency we require in “details” about the functioning of our voting system.
I have found that the only viable choice is paper ballots with optical scanners and accessible ballot markers. Please make this your selection, consistent with people’s concerns for democratic process.