Monday, March 2, 2009

Why Fight to Keep Our NYS Lever Voting System?

Our lever system works

The lever machines and election procedures that constitute our New York State lever voting system provide us with the only system that can meet our constitutionally- guaranteed right to a reliable and transparent election process. In the 1880s and 1890s, paper ballots were at the core of NY’s history of rampant voter fraud. This fraud stimulated our state’s commitment to finding a system that minimized the risk of tampering. By 1925, the entire state used lever voting, except New York City, where Tammany Hall fought levers to the bitter end. The 1926 election results reassured Democrats and Republicans in NYC that lever voting machines meant clean elections. Since then, and precisely because lever machines are mechanical, the NY election system, equipment, and accompanying procedures, have evolved to the point where New Yorkers have great confidence in and affection for our lever system.

Ballot marking devices make the lever system HAVA compliant

The claim that retaining our lever machines keeps NY out of compliance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) is erroneous. The Federal Court accepted the State’s plan to comply with HAVA by installing ballot-marking devices for people with disabilities in every polling place. That plan was implemented in 2008.

Why spend this money now?

In this time of economic crisis, New York taxpayers should be spared the excessive and recurring costs imposed by a switch to an optical scan voting system. Let’s decrease, not increase, costs.

An electronic system requires funding for equipment purchase, initial and on-going staff training, and recurring costs for climate-controlled warehousing, sophisticated system maintenance, software verification, and technicians on call. Certification requirements will change over time; the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is presently debating new standards, imposing additional costs to recertify previously purchased scanners and replace those that can’t meet the new standards. All of this would cost New Yorkers millions of additional dollars, even in small counties.

Why spend these millions when our current lever system has proven reliable and tamper-proof over many decades, and maintainable at very low cost? In 2006, our state legislators passed the Election Reform and Modernization Act (ERMA) which requires that the Election Commission use certified, software-based voting machines – far beyond what HAVA requires. Reversing the electronic voting requirement is a budget cut we could all get behind.

The technology proposed to replace levers doesn’t secure the vote

Some believe that “certification” means secure, tamper-proof, or not hackable. It doesn’t; nothing in NY’s standards or the EAC (2005) standards currently in effect guarantees it, nor does anyone claim that it does. Computer scientists currently agree that, today, threats to the security of touch-screen and optical scanner software continue without foreseeable solutions. Maybe someday a system to handle these threats will emerge, but currently software, by its nature, can be tested today and hacked tomorrow; verified now and changed minutes later, without a trace.

Many believe that the law includes a solution to the software security issue -- voter-verified paper records for audit purposes. However, three issues remain unresolved: determining 1) a statistically valid sample size and methodology for audit; 2) a process for resolving discrepancies; and 3) a chain of custody procedure for the paper ballots.

Statisticians warn that ERMA's 3% sample is inadequate to ferret out fraud and no methodology for selecting the sample ballots or resolving discrepancies exists. Historically, most vote tampering occurred during the transport of paper ballots from the polling place for counting or recounting elsewhere. Paper ballots must be counted in plain view before they leave the polling place, or strict chain of custody procedures must be in place. NY State’s present law calls for neither.

Here’s what you can do
  • Sign the petition
  • Contact your elected representatives at all levels of government to let them know where you stand on this issue; ask them to follow the lead of Dutchess, Columbia, and Ulster Counties and the NY Association of Towns by passing a resolution urging the State to keep the lever system.
  • Write a letter to the editor; ask why they aren’t paying attention to this issue
  • Share this information with your friends; get the buzz going

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


  1. A few months back I wrote the following article on how easy it is to vote using our lever machines. I hope this helps:

    We probably have both the cheapest and most reliable voting process in the nation now. Why upgrade from a functional old system to a dysfunctional new one? Once we do, it'll be virtually impossible to go back again, and then we'll spend years, maybe decades trying to make a computerized system do what the lever machines do already - count votes accurately.

  2. A Reply to Howard Stanislevic’s Latest Article on the NY Voting System

    Richard Charnin (TruthIsAll)

    Jan. 13, 2011

    Howard Stanislevic has just written "Watching and Waiting For a Return to Innocence".


    It has not escaped our attention, or that of our readers, that our last post was over a year ago, when it first became evident that New Yorkers would lose their voting system and have it replaced by a software-based system that our legal system is incapable of regulating. We called that post "The End of Innocence" and it covered quite a lot of ground.


    “Incapable of regulating”? What are you saying, Howard? That the legal system is corrupt? Then why don’t you focus on the corruption, rather than shill incessantly for a return to lever machines? Yes, the 100 year history of NY Lever machines was truly the “Age of Innocence” – voters were innocent of the facts and had no idea that their votes cast on Levers were tabulated by corrupt humans and rigged computers for the past 50 years.


    There hasn't been a need to post anything more since then; we would just be repeating ourselves. We've met with the powers that be in both houses of the State Legislature responsible for making election law, and they have taken our suggestions under advisement. No laws have been passed to verify election results. But we've seen lots of interest in the National Popular Vote (NPV), Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and other practically unverifiable voting methods. Even Internet voting!

    That is commendable, but what makes you think that NY politicians were ever for fair elections?

    Perhaps in light of the state's highest court's Dec. 20th denial of a hand count in the NY State Senate District 7 race in which computers -- rather than voters -- determined which party will control the Senate, it's time for a quick review of how we got here.

    You need to change “computers” to “election officials”.


    New York has become the Florida of the Northeast when it comes to elections, or perhaps worse since we don't even attempt to count thousands of undervotes reported by the ballot scanners. Our new machines don't even warn voters of the effect of casting overvotes, which Florida has corrected after their unfortunate 2008 experience.


    So you are concerned about election officials not doing their jobs to hand count the paper ballots produced by optical scanners. You could never accuse them of not counting the paper ballots produced by mechanical levers. There weren’t any.


    There is plenty of blame to go around so we've tried to summarize it for your convenience as we keep watching and waiting for a Return to Innocence. Those who are responsible for our current situation know who they are, although they may be in denial about it.

    Here's what happened:
    1. New York has a history of paper ballot fraud (Tammany Hall) which lever machines were effectively designed to prevent. We don't trust PEOPLE or PAPER unless they can be watched. We do trust machines that can be locked against tampering, observed when opened, and that work on simple observable mechanical principles such as gravity and that can't switch votes during elections the way software can. They are part of a voting system and a legal systemdesigned to prevent fraud. Reinventing that system to deal with computers is a lot harder than most people think. In fact, it's never been done!


    Waiting for a return to innocence? You mean waiting for unverifiable levers? Just who is in denial?

    “New York has a history of paper ballot fraud”. Once again, we get to your true agenda: you don’t trust paper ballots, but you love those mechanical levers. Howard, how quickly you forget: New York votes were CAST on levers but COUNTED on central tabulators. That is how votes cast on levers could be switched. You have been made aware of this many times before, but continue to ignore it.