Peter Belmont


Statement before the Governmental Operations Committee

April 24, 2006


My name is Peter Belmont. I am a resident and voter in Kings County. Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.


I urge each member of this committee and the Chairman to sponsor Resolution 131, and to vote it out of committee with a recommendation for passage by the entire council. I thank Council Member Vallone for his sponsorship.


While I have some experience with NYC elections (I worked with the Margarita Lopez-Torres team during the resolution of the disputed primary election for surrogate in Kings County), my more important experience is a 25-year career as a computer programmer.


The reason I support Resolution 131 is that paper ballots will eliminate problems that will be hard or impossible to demonstrate or detect -- and impossible to correct -- if New York City chooses Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) technology over Precinct Based/Optical Scanner (PB/OS) technology. Who would detect a programmed-in 1% transfer of votes from one candidate to another? No exit poll would catch such a transfer.


Under the PB/OS system, the paper ballot is marked directly by the voter, whether by hand or by an accessible ballot-marking machine. The voter will be able to check that the paper ballot contains the voter's intent. PB/OS is inherently a voter-verified system, as an election system should be.


Under PB/OS, recounts should present very few problems. If the Board of Elections’s central scanner rejects a paper ballot for any reason, it will be readable by humans.


By contrast, under a DRE system, no one can see what vote has been recorded inside the computer. There is no immediate check by the voter or subsequent check by anyone else. As others have said, the computer screen and the paper printout might be called a placebo, because they may make voters feel good but they cannot show what the computer has recorded or counted.


DREs are “trust me” systems. I don’t trust computer-based systems whose programming cannot be checked and whose internal data is never verified. A computer system can be subject to intentional mis-programming by its original programmers and by subsequent hackers. I see no reason for our Board of Elections deliberately to choose a system that is subject not only to normal computer programming problems (called “bugs”) but also to intentional attempts to swing elections. The more important the election, the greater the impulse for someone, somewhere, to misuse a DRE system.


Thank you.