, Elmira/Corning, N.Y.

Guest View

January 7, 2007


Don't rush into new machines

State's voting changeover should be moved from '07 to'09.


It is now all but official that New York state's current plan to replace lever voting machines by September is not going to happen. Certification testing of new voting systems has been delayed because of the vendors' inability to meet New York's rigorous standards and their irresponsible practice of submitting continuous bug fixes and changes, requiring that testing be continually restarted.


On Dec. 18, the New York State Board of Elections announced at a meeting of county commissioners of elections that the state will undoubtedly miss the September deadline but did not elaborate on what plan might replace the current one.


It is time for New York to discuss alternatives. But simply delaying it one more year until 2008 won't do. I propose that New York state must delay any introduction of new voting machines until at least 2009.


Don't start in 2008


The natural assumption is that if the state does not change voting systems by 2007, then full implementation would simply be delayed one year to 2008. But New York state must consider the risks of the first-time use of new voting systems in a presidential election, where high voter turnout will stress the system to its limits and beyond.


In general, it is a good principle to avoid introducing a new voting system during major election years. The likelihood that insufficient training, machine breakdowns, lack of experience with new procedures and high voter turnout will lead to long lines, frustrated voters, questionable results and subsequent legal challenges is high, and should be avoided at all costs.


Even under the best of circumstances, the 2008 presidential election would be a bad time to roll out a new system -- but given its track record thus far, it is valid to question whether the Board of Elections' current approach can be relied on for adequate planning and preparedness for a 2008 rollout.


2009 a safer target


Given the dangers of rolling out new systems in a presidential election year, a sensible alternative is to delay a complete switchover until at least September 2009. This plan would call for a replacement of lever machines with optical ballot scanners to be in place by 2009. An interim step for 2007 and 2008 would require that accessible ballot marking devices be in place in each polling place to provide fully accessible voting and to meet accessibility requirements in the Help Americans Vote Act. It is important that the State Board of Elections require that any accessible ballot marking devices used in 2007 and 2008 be fully compatible with precinct ballot scanner systems. They must not allow counties to choose ballot-marking devices that won't work with scanners -- as many counties did last year, wasting precious HAVA funds.


There are many benefits to waiting until 2009 to fully replace the state's lever machines:


•Allows sufficient time for a thorough certification process and security review.


•Allows necessary time for voting machine vendors to achieve compliance with New York state statutory requirements.


•Allows needed time to fully develop plans and procedures for new systems at state and county levels.


•Provides needed time for adequate training of staff, poll workers and voters in use of new systems.


•Allows interim implementation of ballot marking devices in each polling place by 2007 to meet HAVA accessibility requirements.


•Avoids using a new system for the first time in a presidential election year.


Legislature would need to act

For this proposed plan to happen, the Legislature must modify the law it passed in June 2005 stipulating that lever machines must be replaced by September. At a minimum, the law must be changed so that the mandated changeover is no earlier than September 2009. While they're at it, legislators ought to correct another big mistake they made when they punted the voting machine choice to each county. It's time to right that wrong and pass a law mandating paper ballots and optical scanners as New York's single statewide voting system.


Another obstacle is the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit that resulted in the state being ordered to replace lever machines with new voting systems by September 2007. It is clear that to extend the target date would require a negotiated change in the federal order. Legal experts would have to handle this, but it is worth noting that the original target date for HAVA implementation was 2006. In accepting the eventual compromise, the Justice Department acknowledged that the risk of voter disenfranchisement and substantial disruption to smoothly run elections caused by rushed introduction of new voting machines outweighed the necessity to meet the deadline. It would seem that the same logic could apply here.


In any case it seems clear that the original target of September 2007 will not be met. No matter what happens, New York state will again be in noncompliance and will need to renegotiate schedules. We must press for a generous schedule that allows sufficient time to guarantee a well-run election with well-tested equipment. New York state must get new voting systems right the first time. A two-year implementation plan helps assure that we do.


Bo Lipari is director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting. Guest View offers an opportunity to comment in-depth about an interest or to address specific issues that have public impact.


Voting meeting

Bo Lipari, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, is scheduled to attend a voting-machine information session held by the Corning City Council at 6 p.m. Monday in council chambers, 1 Civic Center Plaza in Corning.


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