Teresa Hommel


Chairwoman, Task Force on Election Integrity, Community Church of NY


Statement before the Governmental Operations Committee

And the Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation,

 Alcoholism, Drug Abuse & Disability Services

October 4, 2006




Urging detailed and continuous oversight of

the Board of Elections process of selecting new voting equipment


Urging simplicity, understandability, manageability, and observability

be added to the Board of Elections’ criteria for selection of equipment for 2007





Thank you for conducting this hearing, and for the opportunity to appear before you today.


In the recent primary our Board of Elections did an excellent job of providing electronic ballot marking devices in its five Borough offices. The Board of Elections prepared for nearly three months, produced new procedures and manuals, and conducted multiple training sessions and multiple “dress rehearsals” for their election day staff.


I observed for five hours in the Manhattan Board of Elections office, and everything seemed to run smoothly. There appeared to be four staff people assigned to each machine.


One excellent aspect of our Avante ballot markers was that an election observer could easily witness that the voting procedure was conducted properly. It was easy to observe that each voter produced one ballot and then deposited it into the ballot box.


I voted on the Ballot Marking Device. Everything went well until my machine got to the race for judicial delegates. The candidates I wished to vote for were not displayed, so I told a staff member that they had given me the wrong ballot. He showed me a small triangle on the screen and after I touched it the candidates for a second slate were displayed which included my candidates. I was impressed that the staff member knew the equipment very well, even though I thought the screen design was poor, and would result in very few votes for candidates in the second slate. Hopefully this design problem can be fixed before our November election.


Unfortunately, I believe that our Board of Election’s achievement and success with computerized voting in the five borough offices this year may be impossible to extend to all poll sites citywide next year.


·        The repeated training and dress rehearsals may be impossible to conduct with 30,000 poll workers citywide.


·        Touchscreen displays that show the voter an enlarged font and then fail to show all candidates may spoil elections for candidates whose names are not displayed first. Not all voters will call for assistance. Those who do may not get correct answers.


·        The paper ballots produced by the ballot marking device this year were simply put into a ballot box and later hand-counted, which is a completely understandable process. If we hope to automate or computerize the collection and handling of ballots and the tallying of votes  next year, this will make those processes unobservable, and may cause people to question and disrespect the outcomes.


I believe we need to choose the simplest, most understandable, manageable, and observable system possible. Given our two legal choices of DREs versus paper ballots/optical scanners/ballot markers, this means the paper ballot systems. And hopefully we can reconsider the AutoMark ballot marking device, assuming it becomes state-certified, to evaluate whether it has a simpler design than the Avante system we are using this year.


I am concerned that our Board of Elections may choose computerized voting machines (DREs) to replace our current mechanical machines, and that the equipment will not be understandable or manageable to most poll workers and many voters, nor simple to understand and manage in its entirety, nor allow meaningful observation of election processes.


Many news articles and TV programs now are discussing whether or not DREs “work.” This question cannot be answered in the abstract. We need to ask whether the equipment works when specific people use it. Failures of computerized voting machines are often blamed on “poorly trained poll workers and voters” but in fact, the machines’ design is so poor that the people the machines were designed to serve cannot understand or work with them.


I urge you to recommend to the Board of Elections to add these additional items to their list of criteria for selection of new equipment:


·        Simplicity of the entire system (not just the parts voters will interact with)

·        understandability to poll workers and voters

·        manageability to poll workers and voters

·        observability to election observers


I urge the City Council to maintain detailed and continuous oversight of our Board of Elections’ work to select and implement new equipment.


Thank you.