electionline Weekly – March 31, 2005
I. In Focus This Week
‘Hybrid’ voting machines raise
questions about certification, accessibility
By Elizabeth Schneider
They were touted as the
solution to the problem of paper and accessibility in voting. Manufacturers of
“hybrid” voting machines, which look and act like touch-screen systems but use
a high-tech interface to mark paper ballots, say their systems bring the
flexibility of e-voting – multiple languages, font sizes, accessibility for
voters with disabilities, reduced printing costs – with the ballot-by-ballot
auditability of optical-scan systems.
It’s a tempting choice for
states seeking to balance the needs of those with disabilities with concerns
over direct-recording electronic (DRE) systems, which do not allow an
independent paper audit of individual ballots.
In nine months – by January 1,
2006 – states must meet the voting-system accessibility mandates of the Help
America Vote Act. If a state accepted punch-card and lever machine buyout
money, it must replace systems statewide. All states must purchase at least one
machine per polling accessible to people with disabilities.
And that gives them little
time to figure out the maze of voting system certification.
Given the current and complex
system of voting machine certification, which uses standards that were last
updated in 2002, election officials are still unsure how to meet the January
2006 deadline, and at the same time comply with standards that might not be on
target with the yet-to-be released guidelines. (See last week’s electionline
Weekly for more.)
The manufactures of the hybrid
say their machines comply with the HAVA mandates. Some groups representing
voters with disabilities disagree.
In a letter
addressed to Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, the American Association of
People with Disabilities (AAPD) states several counties in Ohio
plan to purchase an AutoMark system in order to comply with the new state law.
By doing so, the AAPD argues, they would violate the law.
“The AutoMark is not
accessible for those disabled Buckeyes who cannot handle paper… purchasing the
AutoMark not only violates the Help America Vote Act, it is a violation of the
Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act,” states the AAPD
The AutoMark is outfitted with
a sip/puff tube for voters who are unable to use a touch screen or touch pad
and an audio function for voters with impaired vision. The Populex
machine, a similar hybrid, also allows touch controls and other “enhanced
navigation” for people with disabilities.
Jim Dickson, vice president of
government affairs for the AAPD, argues that people who are unable to use their
hands will lose their right to a secret ballot with the AutoMark machine
because, “a voter who casts a ballot on the system would be required to carry
the marked ballot and then insert it into a vote tabulator.”
“HAVA outlines that the voting
process is to be independent,” says Dickson. “And the simple problem [with
AutoMark] is the loss of independence and secrecy.”
According to several groups
supporting the voting rights of the disabled community, including the American
Council of the Blind, the use of direct-recording electronic machines, already
certified by the federal government and in use in many states, has proven to be
the most accessible voting system. DREs can also be outfitted with a printer to
produce a voter-verifiable paper record.
According to the National
Institute for of Standards and Technology (NIST), HAVA allocates $850 million
to the states over three years to purchase accessible voting equipment, footing
about 95 percent of the total cost.
The AutoMark has also drawn
fire from the United Spinal Association.
“This system is accessible,
but not to all,” the group wrote in a letter
opposing the use of the machines.
According to Ellen Bogard, a
spokesperson for ES&S, the voting machine company which markets the system,
the AutoMark ensures the privacy of every voter. A voter would be able to use a
secrecy sleeve which would protect the ballot from view, and for those who
require assistance handling the ballot ES&S can “prepare ballots without
any candidate names, initiatives or other ballot measures printed on the
But the cost of the machines
could discourage some localities, even if they want the hybrid technology. Ohio,
for example, has increased its voter rolls by nearly one million people in the
past two years. “The $106 million the state received for new voting technology
will not be enough to reach the states original goal of supplying one
accessible machine per 200 registered voters,” said Carlo LaParo, a
spokesperson for Blackwell. “The AutoMark is currently outside of our budget.”
According to the AAPD, the
cost of the AutoMark is at least 30 percent higher than accessible touch
screens. Elaine Gravely, Montana’s
deputy secretary of state for elections, told a local newspaper that the
machines cost around $5,000.
reports the state paid just over $2,800 per touch-screen DREs manufactured by
To update the standards, NIST was
given the authority, under HAVA, to provide technical and administrative
support to the body that will make the final recommendation to the federal
Election Assistance Commission (EAC).
The Institute’s Technical
Guidelines Development Committee is expected to review and approve the final
draft of the new recommendations and standards on April 20th and 21st.
Allan Eustis, project leader
for the committee, said the reports will serve as a road map to help the EAC
create new voting certification standards.
“It will be up to the guidelines
committee to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’” he said.
The report from NIST, said
Whitney Quesenbery, of Whitney Interactive Design and an advisor to the
Technical Guidelines Development Committee specializing in usability, is being
rushed out “precisely because of the gaps in the 2002 standards.”
What’s missing, she said, is a
specific standard which would cover the full range of a person’s abilities,
including those that face problems in accessing a voting system, and where the
disability affects the usability of the system.
to federal election commissioner Ray Martinez, NIST and the committee are
taking existing standards and updating them with a priority on security,
accessibility and usability.
The AutoMark system,
he said, could be problematic for a person who does not have the use of their
hands or is blind or visually impaired to take ballots from system to a ballot
box which could possibly compromises the independent clause of HAVA.
“The EAC has not weighed in on whether this is the case [with the
AutoMark],” he said. “We need to look at any of these areas where there is
ambiguity or need for greater clarity… and these will be voluntary guidelines.”