Teresa Hommel

October 28, 2009


Questions and Answers about Voting Equipment



1. Why keep our lever voting machines? Why not switch to paper ballots, and use scanners to count the votes?


Lever machines have 100 years of proven service, ease of use, minimal cost, and simple visual inspection to ensure correct programming of the rods and gears. We perform 100% recanvass of the lever voting machines.


If we replace our lever machines with paper ballots and scanners, New York law specifies:


·        3% “audit” of scanners, which is insufficient to find all innocent or malicious programming and scanning errors.


·        • 97% unverified computerized vote-counting by scanners.


Our law allows paper ballots to be out of observers’ view for up to 15 days between the end of election day and the 3% “audit,” creating temptation and opportunity for tampering as well as public suspicion of tampering. 


2. Sometimes our lever machines have been broken. They can be jimmied to not work. That’s why we should use computers.


Computerized voting equipment will be broken at least as often as lever machines, but probably more often because computers are more fragile and more vulnerable to innocent setup mistakes as well as fraud.


Our lever machines are simple to maintain. If they are broken or jimmied, it is because of negligent or malicious people. Replacing the levers with computers won’t turn negligent or malicious people into saints, but it will require more work to ensure that the computers are properly set up.


Computer problems may not be noticeable or detectable to the most conscientious and honest computer technicians.


3. All we need is some security device to protect the scanners.


There is no such a device.


4. Why keep trying? That train has left the station. That ship has sailed.


In fact, the lever machines are alive and well in their warehouses. The only train or ship that has gone is the political will to avoid making an expensive mistake.


No optical scanners have passed their certification tests despite years of testing. No contracts have been signed except those required for the “pilot” in September and November, 2009.

5. It’s 2009. Computers are modern. Our whole society uses computers.


Democracy is about government by the people, not about being modern. Government behind closed doors is easily corrupted, including elections. Computers are like closed doors that can’t be opened -- they prevent election observers and ordinary people from witnessing the proper handling of votes, or understanding how their votes are (or should be) handled and counted.


It’s 2009, and in professional use of computers, 100% of processing is verified at every processing step, but errors and fraud occur anyway. ATMs are widely used for fraud and identity theft. Google on “computer fraud cases” and “ATM fraud” gives over 12 million entries. The FBI says 87% of installations have security incidents in a year, 64% of which are serious enough to cause loss of money. 44% are caused by insiders!


It’s 2009, and why are we willing to risk our elections with this vulnerable technology—with an unprofessional 3% scheme of verification and blind trust in 97% of the unobservable, computerized vote-counting?


6. Voters with disabilities don’t want “separate but equal” treatment. They want to use the same machines as everyone else.


“Separate but equal” for Blacks was a sham—it was never equal, and always inferior. But voters using New York’s new accessible Ballot Marking Devices have the “gold  standard” of voting – voter-marked paper ballots with vote-counting immediately upon close of  polls with all ballots under continuous observation.


At this time no vendor is offering a machine that gives us the same process for all voters, with and without disabilities, and also preserves the integrity of the vote.


The objective of election integrity advocates is for all voters to cast a private and independent “secret ballot” with votes that get counted as the voter intended.  


7. Advocates for accessibility are not responsible for election security.


It is counter-productive to advocate the use of technology that is (1) known to be insecure with a history of errors and fraud, and that (2) undermines our democracy by preventing citizen oversight of our elections. Computerized voting and vote-counting do create a kind of equality—no one’s votes are secure, and no one knows whether election results were created by innocent error, fraud, or the voters.


8. We need a paper record of each ballot, which lever machines don’t have.


Paper records are needed for software-independent verification of software-created results. Scanners use invisible software to credit votes to the intended candidate and add up the votes in invisible software counters. Scanners need software-independent verification that observers can witness—that means hand-counting the same votes that the scanner counted to prove the scanners were programmed correctly.


Lever machines don’t have software at all, and don’t need software-independent verification. Lever machines use mechanical components—metal rods and gears and counters. Lever machines need visual inspection and mechanical tests.


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