By Barbara Murphy
Sunday, August 7, 2005, Albany Times Union
With federal funds available for replacements, New York has banned lever voting machines as of 2007 and has given each county the task of selecting new voting technology. The choices are paper ballots, alone or with optical scanners to tally the votes, or fully electronic voting machines, called direct recording electronic machines.
Our new technology must produce a voter-verified paper record of each ballot and must enable people who have disabilities to vote in private. Counties must choose from systems approved by the state Board of Elections or authorized by law.
A system using paper ballots with an optical scanner in each precinct is the better choice.
With the scanner system, local officials have paper ballots printed, as they now do for absentee voting. Voters mark their ballot and bring it to a scanner that checks for errors and gives the voter a chance to make changes if there are too many or too few votes marked. The ballots are tallied by the scanner and dropped into a locked box.
A voter using the direct recording electronic machine sees a computer screen with the ballot on it and touches the screen to make selections. The computer prints a list of the voter's choices on a strip of paper for verification. The voter must compare this paper with the screen display. If the paper is accepted, it is secured in the voting machine as a record of the votes for auditing purposes.
With scanners, election outcomes can be confirmed by recounting actual ballots. The paper ballots are our official ballots. Local officials and citizens are still in charge. In case of scanner failures on Election Day, marked ballots can be kept securely for later scanning and voting continues uninterrupted.
With direct electronic voting machines, questionable election outcomes mean that vendor technicians must solve any technical problems. They have proprietary program code which only they may see and work with, effectively putting the voting process into the hands of corporations, instead of local officials and citizens.
Major voting machine manufacturers make both systems. But Common Cause of New York reports that voting machine vendors have spent more than $1 million in the state since 2002 to influence our officials to purchase direct recording electronic machines.
Why? It appears they can make more money from that system. A study this April by New Yorkers for Verified Voting, "Acquisitions Cost Analysis," found a $116 million savings if New York purchased scanners rather than direct recording electronic machines. While the latter replace lever machines one for one, a single scanner can replace at least four lever machines at one polling place, according to the report.
The U.S. League of Women Voters says that our new voting systems should be secure, accurate, recountable and accessible. The state League of Women Voters has endorsed the paper ballot/scanner, accompanied by a federally certified ballot marker for the disabled, as having all of these capabilities. So have Citizen Action and several newspapers.
In the last national election, 46 percent of the counties in the country -- covering 35 percent of voters -- used scanners.
Meanwhile, newspaper articles report that Miami-Dade County, Fla., plans to replace its $24.5 million investment in electronic voting machines with scanners after a multitude of malfunctions and lost ballots. Operating costs were double what had been budgeted. Similar systems across the country have exhibited incorrect vote totals, such as having more votes than voters; failed to register voters' selections, with no way to recover the voters' intent because a paper trail wasn't required; and have broken down, causing removal of machines in mid-election and suspension of voting. (When outcomes in elections using scanners have been questionable, the voters' original ballots were available for recounting, occasionally reversing the initial outcome.)
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, notes there is no federal money for future replacements of voting equipment after the initial purchase funded through the Help America Vote Act. Local governments will subsequently pay.
In New York, vendors of a voting system will pay for testing required before state certification. Corporations seeking profit at the expense of our voting rights might not submit their scanners for certification.
Voters should contact their county and state election officials and legislators about this issue. The state Board of Elections must ensure that a paper ballot/optical scan voting system is certified. County legislatures and boards of elections should choose this technology. Otherwise, we cannot expect to have our votes cast securely and counted as cast after November 2006.
Barbara Murphy is a member of the New York State League of Women Voters and New Yorkers for Verified Voting. She lives in Clifton Park
All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2005, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.
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