Teresa Hommel




Statement before the

Government Operations Committee

New York City Council

November 21, 2005





1. Calculation of Acquisition Costs

2. Our State Regulations will Not Ensure Security of DREs




Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today.


I am Teresa Hommel, Chairwoman of the Task Force on Election Integrity of Community Church of New York. I am here to oppose the use of electronic voting systems and support the use of PBOS technology, meaning paper ballots, precinct-based optical scanners, and ballot-marking devices for voters with special needs.



I have worked professionally with computers for 38 years.


My experience as a short-term contractor for the last 20 years has given me the opportunity to see hundreds of computer systems, hear about their problems, and participate is solving some of those problems.


In my experience in the professional world, there are three questions people ask about new computer systems: what does it do, how do you know it's working, and how much will it cost?


New York State, and New York City, are perhaps weeks away from selecting a new voting technology, after nearly three years of knowing that some kind of transition might have to take place, and two out of these three questions still cannot be answered.



1. Calculation of Acquisition Costs


Most companies that I work for can estimate to a high degree of accuracy how much it will cost to implement a new system. When I worked as a computer saleswoman for IBM in the early 1970's I participated in estimates of project costs.


But no state or city agency, including the State or City Comptroller, nor any Board of Elections, has produced a definitive, comparative estimate of costs.

We have seen partial estimates that slant their results, both through omission and minimization of costs for electronic voting, and inflation of costs for the paper ballot option. This subject was brought up in the September 23 hearing on HAVA Compliance, and you received copies of several documents in evidence. You also got copies of the North Carolina General Assembly Legislative Fiscal Note, where the purchase cost of PBOS was estimated at $45.9 million, versus DREs which were estimated at $135.1 million, approximately three times more.


In frustration, I myself went to the Board of Elections last month, and purchased a printout of the list of poll sites, Election Districts, and number of registered voters per Election District. I used the yardstick of the Board of Elections, that EDs with 800 or fewer registered voters get one lever machine, and EDs with 801 or more voters get two lever machines. I entered the data into my computer, had my church committee proof it twice to make sure it was absolutely accurate, wrote a program to assess replacement costs, and produced fifteen reports, 3 per borough. All the numbers have been checked by hand. These reports are attached.


I used three different replacement formulas, and calculated the costs for each. The result is, DREs will cost about two to three times more than PBOS. From the point of view of fiscal responsibility, we should choose PBOS as our new voting technology.


[My study shows only purchase price. Some additional costs are proportional to the number of new units purchased, which would be fewer if PBOS is selected. Proportional costs include the one-time effort for training and time for personnel to take the new systems out of their shipping cartons and determine if they boot up and pass an acceptance test, and some continuing costs such as ballot programming, Logic and Accuracy testing, transportation to and from poll sites, etc.]



2. Our State Regulations will Not Ensure Security of DREs


To date, the question "how do you know it's working," when asked about electronic voting systems, has always been answered with some version of  "I trust the computer." Yet, as far as I know, election integrity has never been the result of trust in an invisible, secret process.


Our NY State Board of Elections recently published draft regulations for Voting Systems Standards. These Regulations set forth requirements for the examination and state certification of voting systems. Both the form and content of this document are shoddy and unprofessional, and bode ill for the quality of our future DRE election equipment. Attached to my testimony is a copy of the Regulations with my comments embedded.


The requirements for optical scanners are comprehensive, except they appear to have been copied from a document for central-count optical scanners, so they aren't always appropriate.


The requirements for DREs are superficial. Federal certification is not required, and basically if the vendor can run a small number of ballots through their electronic voting system and get the right tallies, they can get certified by New York State.


Mr. Chairman, I urge you to ask the vendors here today to submit their equipment to a full public test involving


1.      A mock election with at least 10 DREs and their central tabulator if they provide one, using a real ballot such as from the November 2004 election;  a "stress test" of the maximum number of voters that the system will ever have to handle on one election day; entry of all possible vote combinations; use of all devices including the touch screen or pushbuttons, all accessible devices, minority language interfaces, and the printer, showing the handling of overvotes, undervotes, straight party voting, modification of choices by the voter, second-chance voting, and all other capabilities; extraction of the end-of-day information from the system; and a complete audit of results and logs created by the DREs.


2.      Examination by respected computer scientists such as Dr. Avi Rubin, Dr. David Dill, or Dr. Rebecca Mercuri, of all internal and external memory of all kinds including all files, programming, operating system code, and any other memory contents.


3.      A "red test" in which skilled and knowledgeable professionals and activists attempt to subvert the system, posing as insiders as well as outside hackers.


Some good government advocates have said that they hesitate to publicly endorse PBOS because “what if vendors give us poor-quality PBOS systems and good-quality DREs.” With certification requirements as minimal as these, that is unlikely. Instead, we will get outstanding optical scanners and DREs that are untested mock-ups, not even prototypes, that will fail on election day.


I emphasize that thorough evaluation of voting systems can reduce the number of malfunctions on election day but cannot ensure election integrity for two reasons.


First, New York State statute allows communication capability in electronic voting systems, which means that no evaluation of systems can ensure that tampering will not occur via remote access to systems during elections.


Second, no evaluation of any large computer system can guarantee that it is error free (this has been stated frequently by computer scientists such as Dr. Avi Rubin).


For these reasons, regardless of the process of federal and state certification of electronic voting systems, all electronic elections need to be fully audited, including hand-to-eye count of 100% of the votes on the voter-verified paper printout, and reconciliation of discrepancies between computer and manual tallies.


Auditing DREs is a lot of work, but recounting real paper ballots is simple. If we start out with paper ballots marked by hand, securely handled under surveillance of multipartisan election observers, and recounts to verify optical scanner tallies, we can have simple and honest elections.





In conclusion, I urge the New York City Council to pass a resolution supporting PBOS and urging our NYC Board of Elections to chose PBOS as our new voting technology.