White Plains Times


Lever-Action Voting Machines’ Days Numbered


By: Michael Pellegrin

Published: August 23, 2007


This election season will likely be remembered for featuring a rare Democratic primary election for the Common Council ballot and for featuring a larger-than-usual slate of candidates for the three open council seats. But it may also be remembered as the last election season to use the curtain-and-lever voting machines that voters have been using for decades.


After Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the state Board of Elections devised a list of tasks, including testing and certifying new machines from various companies, sending a list to county elections boards from which the local boards could choose new machines, and then implementing new machines by this year’s November elections. The New York State Legislature decreed that lever-style voting machines were not to be used after September of this year, but they extended that deadline by six months in action taken last month.


Citizens for Voting Integrity, which was formed after the 2004 presidential election in part in response to voting problems observed in Ohio and Florida, lists as one of its missions to prohibit touch-screen electronic voting machines, or “direct recording electronic” (DRE) machines, which they believe are too vulnerable to manipulation and fraud or unintentional error.


Allegra Dengler, a Dobbs Ferry resident and chair of the organization, said at least one upstate county is using such machines, even though they currently don’t meet federal law because they don’t leave a paper trail. She added that “it’s going to make it harder for things to get certified” for use in New York if they don’t comply with federal law. The delays are unfortunate, she said, but even worse would be adoption of the DREs; Dengler asked rhetorically if, apart from actual intentional fraud, we really want technicians to have such an important aspect of our democracy in their hands if the machines fail. Dengler also provided this quote from the National Institute of Standards and Technology from December 2006: “Potentially, a single programmer could ‘rig’ a major election. The computer security community rejects the notion that DREs can be made secure, arguing that … they are vulnerable to large-scale errors and election fraud.”


Dengler predicted that optical scanner machines, into which a paper, manually filled-out ballot is dropped and scanned, may be the first new machines to get certified, although some county elections commissioners are not fond of them. Many observers, including Rosemary MacLaughlin, president of the White Plains-based League of Women Voters of Westchester, favor these machines because they retain the filled-out ballots and they dispense an ATM-style receipt to voters.


“We feel [optical scan machines] are the safer method for voting; they are easier for people to use, and if there’s any question at all, you have the actual ballot,” MacLaughlin said on Wednesday. “You’re not relying on any electronics as you would with the DRE machines.”


MacLaughlin added, however, that she would like to see the lever machines used through 2008, so that next year’s presidential election is not the test election for any new voting method. She would prefer to see the optical scan machines put into use in 2009.


No matter how voters cast their ballots in 2008 and beyond, Dengler’s group and others will continue to work toward their mission.


“We want to see more citizen involvement and awareness of how our votes are counted,” she said.  


Copyright 2007 White Plains Times