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