November 21, 2006
Statement before the Election Commissioners of New York City.
My name is Ruth Benson. I live in Castleton Corners, Staten Island, NY.
I am here to talk about the voting technology that you, Commissioners of the New York City Board of Elections, will chose to replace our lever machines.
Two types of equipment are under consideration: electronic voting machines, known as direct recording electronic (DREs) and paper ballot/optical scanners (PBOS). I oppose the use of DREs and I urge the you to select PBOS machines.
My chief concern is for the safety and integrity of the vote. You can see what is marked on a paper ballot. You cannot see what is being recorded inside an electronic device. DREs are computers and computers are vulnerable to a host of problems: system malfunction (computers “go down”), viruses, deliberate tampering or hacking, including intrusions by wireless communications even though that is banned by New York State law. As far as I know, the Board of Elections has no way of verifying that our equipment contains no illegal communications hardware or software.
Our democracy is dependent upon the faith of our citizens in the integrity of our voting processes.
Reports of serious problems with DREs in other states are causing people to question election outcomes. In the 2006 elections in Sarasota, Florida, there were 18,382 undervotes on touchscreen machines – that is, on more than 18,000 ballots, votes were recorded for local candidates but no votes were recorded for US Congressional candidates. How likely is that? Yet we can never know what happened because there was no paper record of those votes. In New York our law requires a voter-verifiable paper printout, but we know that this printout can also be tampered with. We have no way of knowing if voters did in fact verify it, or whether they were able to do so, given that many people have trouble comparing two documents to determine if they contain the same words.
The paper ballot provides a permanent record of the voter’s intent, marked directly by the voter before it is cast, and later counted in front of citizen observers.
PBOS systems have three advantages:
1) They tabulate votes quickly and accurately.
2) They require minimal investment: 1 or 2 scanners per polling place versus possibly a dozen or more DREs.
3) In case of disputes, the paper ballots are available to be scanned again or to be counted by hand.
To conclude, I urge you to choose paper ballots and optical scanners as the best way to ensure the safety and security of our vote.