New York State Board of Elections Voting Machine Proposal Premature and Dangerous to Democracy Declares Assemblywoman Sandy Galef

Proposal to use untested uncertified electronic voting machine in 2008 elections unwise
September 19, 2007

Assemblywoman Sandy Galef expressed alarm at a New York State Board of Elections proposal to use untested, uncertified, direct electronic voting machines as ballot markers for voters with special needs in the 2008 elections.

“The State Board of Elections would be unwise to allow machines that have not undergone the certification process to be used in the 2008 elections,” said Assemblywoman Sandy Galef. “We legislators voted for legislation that created a rigorous voting machine certification process; this would negate our legislative intent and allow untested, uncertified machines to be used.”

The New York State Board of Elections Commissioners are considering a proposal to allow direct electronic recording machines (DREs) to be used in each polling place as an accessible voting machine in the 2008 Elections. The proposal is scheduled for discussion at the next Board of Elections meeting on Thursday, September 20 in the State Board Albany office. The proposal would disable the machine vote counting function and allow the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) to be considered as the official ballot. The Board of Elections is considering this proposal so that New York State can comply with Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requirements for full polling place accessibility.

“We saw the experiences of states across the country that hastily chose DREs in order to comply with federal legislation. Their machines had breakdowns, malfunctions and loss of thousands of votes in real contested elections. Many have now abandoned their millions of dollars of electronic voting machines in order to protect the integrity of their elections with the cheaper optical scan voting systems. With the benefit of this knowledge it would be shameful for New York to violate its own election laws for expediency,” said Laura Porter, Chair of the Westchester County Government Committee of the Westchester League of Women Voters.

"The small ballot-marking devices now is use in all counties in New York have worked well to give people with special needs a private vote. Many local polling places are too small to accommodate adding the expensive electronic voting machines, which are as large and heavy as the lever machines. The only reason to put these in is to give the vendors a back-door way of getting uncertified voting machines into New York,” said Allegra Dengler, Chair of the Sierra Club Election Reform Task Force.

"One big problem with using a DRE as a ballot marker is that it will violate the basic guarantee of the privacy of our vote. To preserve the secret ballot, New York state law requires that all ballots used at a voting location be identical. The paper produced by a DRE (the VVPAT) is a strip of thermal paper that does not conform, and cannot be made to conform, to New York State law requirements for ballots, which are very specific. The VVPAT will always look different than any paper ballots used at the same polling place for other reasons. Imagine the situation, which is not unlikely, that only one person with a disability used a DRE as a ballot marker at a polling location. When the votes were counted, everyone would know how that person voted,” said Margaret Yonco-Haines, Executive Director of Mid-Hudson Verified Voting.

There are additional problems with the DRE VVPAT, according to Bo Lipari, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, since the DRE VVPAT can only be verified by direct visual observation by the voter. The DRE VVPAT cannot be read by those who have no, or limited, vision.

“The use of these machines violates our legislation’s basic voting requirement,” said Assemblywoman Galef. “One of the tenets of our state legislation regarding voting machines is that all voters can verify their ballot. Voters with limited or no vision would not be able to verify their vote. I understand that the Board of Elections is under tremendous pressure to provide voting machines for voters with special needs as soon as possible, but the answer is not to use machines that aren’t accessible to all voters. There are just too many disadvantages to this proposal and no benefits; the Board of Elections must not approve this proposal.”