Saturday, March 21, 2009

What about this question of maintaining lever machines?

sunglasses repairImage by striatic via Flickr

Update 3/21/09: On March 18th International Election Solutions released a statement that they can provide the full aray of services on the 3.2 Shoup Voting Machines. PDF of the statement here.

2/09/09: Several recent articles mourning the end of lever voting make comments that the only company that maintains them has gone out of business. Fortunately, that's not true.

The Voting Machine Service Center in Gerry NY wrote a January 23, 2009 letter, now archived on Remedia Election Transparency Coalition's website, that confirms that they have been in business for 32 years, continue in business, and that they "can say, with confidence, that the AVB lever machines in the State of New York could be maintained indefinitely."

Here's the link to the pdf of the letter.
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Get behind these budget cuts, NYC

The NYC Board of Elections is complaining, and threatening suit, against Mayor Bloomberg's budget cuts.

C'mon, guys, let's get real.

  • The Feds have extended the deadline for states to use federal funds to modernize voting systems
  • The proposed system is probably unconstitutional in NYS
  • The optical scanners have yet to be certified as performing to standards so low that they don't/can't assure voters that the machines can't be hacked
  • Paper ballots required to give us confidence in the integrity of a software-based system are so fraught with opportunity for election fraud that they were replaced by levers in NYC with bi-partisan support in 1926
  • Even if certified, the optical scanner-based system can't be implemented in time for 2009 elections.
Now you're going to spend more money suing the city? Give us a break!
Budget cuts endangering city elections, Board of Elections says: "The cuts come during the two most demanding election periods - last year's presidential elections and this year's municipal elections - when all city offices will be on the ballot.

The budget cuts also come as the board is preparing to switch to new electronic voting machines for this year's elections - although Cederqvist acknowledged that developments on the state and federal court levels could postpone that switch for another year.

The mayor's proposed cuts for the new budget would not leave enough money to run all the elections expected this year, including possible runoff elections, Cederqvist said."
All this when, according to Andi Novick at the Election Transparency Coalition, this same body, the NYC Board of Elections, ran an illegal paper ballot recount on Staten Island recently. You can read their blog post here.

I hope the NYC Board of Elections reconsiders its position. We have a perfectly good lever system augmented with ballot marking devices to meet the HAVA requirements. Let's retain it.

Isn't this a budget reduction that New Yorkers can get behind?
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Madison County - The Opposition's Argument

This week, Wanda Warren Berry, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, spoke to the Madison County Board of Supervisors warning against our efforts to retain our lever voting system with ballot marking devices to meet the HAVA requirements.

Berry implies that levers offer voters less protection of our constitutional election standards rather than more.
Voting advocate pushes for new system in Madison County - "'I know how fond many of you were of the lever machines - and how frustrating the long process of getting scanners certified has been,' Berry said Tuesday to legislators in Wampsville. 'But the lever machines do not measure up to the standards for election integrity that most people now hold and that New York's Election Reform and Modernization Act requires.'
This doesn't make sense when you consider that:
  • The optical scanners Berry supports have not been certified
  • The certification standards that are currently in use do not include security against software changes that can occur, without a trace, after testing in the certification lab
  • No software-based voting machines can be secured against hacking, given current computer technology; that's why that protection isn't in the standards
  • NY State moved to lever voting because paper ballots were the source of so much election corruption
  • Statisticians agree that the audit -- 3% sample of paper ballots -- is poorly conceived, statistically invalid, and offers no reassurance
Optical scanners meet standards for election integrity? These seem like pretty low standards to me.

What do you think? Be sure to tell the Madison County Board of Supervisors.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Schuyler seeks state OK to keep lever voting. Thank you, Schuyler!

Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.
It only took one email and a phone call or two to let the Schuyler legislators know that they weren't alone in this. They passed a resolution to keep the lever machines.

So, think what you can do in your county. If they haven't passed a lever resolution yet, make a few calls. Email your representatives. Show up at the Greene County hearing at 6 pm on March 16th.

Schuyler seeks state OK to keep lever voting | | Star-Gazette: "MONTOUR FALLS - Schuyler County legislators on Monday night asked the state to allow New York's counties to continue to use lever-style voting machines.

The request was added to a resolution originally focused on asking for more funding for local governments to replace existing machines. The replacement was ordered by the state's Election Reform and Modernization Act of 2005, a response to the federal government's Help America Vote Act, known as HAVA, approved by Congress in 2002.

The new language was based on a resolution approved last month by the Ulster County Legislature.

'The state's statutorily required elimination of lever-style voting machines is unnecessary, inappropriate and costly,' the unanimously approved resolution states.

'To throw out lever machines that haven't needed repairs in years is senseless,' Legislator Glenn Larison, R-Odessa, said."

We're making progress! Thank you, Schuyler County!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Schuyler vote machine conversion costs more. Why not stick with levers?

ORLEANS PARISH, LA  - NOVEMBER 7:  Voters stan...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Do you know anyone in Schuyler County? Do you know Schuyler County Executive Timothy O'Hearn or Legislator Dennis Fagan? Or anyone else in a leadership position? Call them. Email them. The time is ripe for them to take a stand.

The Schuyler County Legislature is considering two resolutions Monday night related to the exorbitant cost of implementing optical scanner voting machines. Although they, too, wish they could keep their lever machines, they seem to have accepted the change as a fait accomplis. We need to reach them with the message that other counties have decided to fight the change.

They've already spent $193,000 for machines that have yet to be certified and will never be secure. Now, they're learning about the additional, on-going costs.
Schuyler vote machine conversion costs more | | Star-Gazette: "Fagan and O'Hearn said counties initially were led to believe that federal funds would cover all costs. Now, counties are finding out local taxpayers may have to pay for the software necessary to program the ballots. That expense could be upwards of $100,000.

Fagan said counties asked the state for permission to share the software. The request was denied, he said, 'and vendors see no reason to cooperate with us.'

Schuyler also requested to have a single, central location for a voting machine accessible to disabled voters. That, too, was denied, and one machine was purchased for each of the county's 17 polling places.

Those machines were available for use in the November election, but not one was used, officials said.

'This whole thing is a huge joke,' Fagan said. 'It's costing the counties and towns thousands of dollars needlessly. It's very frustrating.'

The Help America Vote Act, known as HAVA, was enacted by Congress in October 2002 to help states replace antiquated voting systems and ensure access for disabled voters.

Schuyler County officials have said they would have preferred to keep the county's lever machines. Those machines probably will be used again in elections this year, Fagan said."
Well, the public sentiment to rescind ERMA and keep our levers grows as the price tag to implement op scanners grows.

Isn't this a budget cut we could all get behind?
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Staten Island Paper Ballots - a Follow-up

Rose/Mitchell City Council Election

Last week we posted a story about the North Shore City Council special election recount of paper ballots scheduled for this past Wednesday on Staten Island. The Court said that candidate Tabacco should go back on the ballot. The Election Commission said it was too late to reprogram the lever machines; the election would use paper ballots.

Here are some telling comments from Staten Island Advance columnist Tom Wrobleski's polit.bureau as these Staten Island politicos reflect on the problems

Strictly Political for March 8, 2009 - SILive: Island Politics: "'They should have just put Tabacco on the ballot in the machine, [prior to the court ruling]' Lavelle said. 'The simplest way was to have him on there and then lock the lever so nobody could pull it for him.'

Attorney Marty Connor, a Democrat who used to represent part of the Island in the state Senate, agreed.

'There's no way to tamper with those machines without leaving a trace,' said Connor, the former Senate minority leader who is lawyering for Mitchell during the recount process.

Having the paper ballots also brought another interesting dynamic into play: What happens if the number of ballots in an election district is greater than the number of signatures in the voter books at the poll site?

Simple: BOE workers randomly remove ballots, in the presence campaign witnesses, so the numbers match up.

In a positively Colonial era procedure, seven ballots were removed from 'overvoted' districts during the first day of the recount.

The ballots were shuffled by hand like playing cards and placed in a plastic bin. Then Republican and Democratic BOE officials turned their backs and took turns removing ballots.

The ballots were folded without being examined and sealed in an envelope."
Wrobleski had an earlier column, Recount Notebook, which tells a fascinating recount story. But since this blog is focused on the benefits of keeping our levers, let me share these comments from his column:

While occasionally mind-numbing, the process is a good "spring training" for what's coming down the line.

When the city begins using optical-scanning machines sometime in the near future, paper ballots marked by voters in pen will be the standard. No longer will votes use the familiar lever machines.

The difference is that that ballots will be tabulated by an optical-scanning machine, like those used to grade standardized tests.

Still, there could come a time when the individual paper ballots in a tight election might have to be recounted by hand.

Officials and other observers here are dreading the possibility that a recount might have to be done in a mayoral, congressional or borough presidential race, where there could be tens of thousands of ballots in the pool.

Well, it took four days to recount the 11,177 votes cast. Unofficially, Ken Mitchell won the City Council race by 342 votes . 51 votes were removed due to overvotes or other reasons. It becomes official when the results are reported to the Supreme Court Justice next Wednesday.

Four days for 11,000 ballots. Shouldn't we just keep our levers?

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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

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Broome County Election Budget Impact

This unnecessary switch to op-scanners has some hidden costs taxpayers should know about. Nancy Dooling, a staff writer at in Binghamton, cited some interesting budget numbers in her article, Old lever machines may count vote again, on January 25th.

Officials are already looking at the expected cost of the [optical scan with paper audit] system. For instance, if the new system is in place, the board will have to purchase enough paper ballots to meet state guidelines. No one knows if this will be one, two or three ballots per voter, Faughnan said. The state hasn't yet made up its mind on the issue.

At 65 cents each and with up to 116,000 potential voters in Broome, the cost for paper ballots could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. With one countywide race this year, all of Broome's voting districts will likely need different ballots, especially with some local offices up for re-election this year.

Factor in the cost of training more than 1,000 local elections inspectors and the price will continue to mount, Faughnan said. A public campaign to help Broome voters become familiar with the new system is also expected to cost money in overtime and in practice paper ballots.
The sidebar at the site includes a concise overview of the replacement issue, but neglects the issues inherent in replacing levers with a software-based system. The final comment, my emphasis, says it all:
Broome's machines have been certified for use by disabled voters, Republican election commissioner Eugene Faughnan said. They haven't been certified to state standards for all voters. Fortunately for voters, the old lever machines remain safe in storage.

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Paper Ballots? No thanks, Levers are better.

As a former Staten Islander and a lever voting system proponent, I have followed the Island's North Shore special City Council election last Tuesday with great interest. And when the Election Commission said they couldn't program the levers in time for the election (a last minute court order put a previously disqualified candidate back on the ballot), they would use paper ballots, I got really interested.

Some people think paper ballots are the most reliable form of voting. They forget that NY developed levers to prevent widespread election fraud occurring with paper ballots.

Tom Wrobleski, in his column Strictly Political, reported that earlier this week candidate Debi Rose told him:
"We went through the [2001] recount trying to make sure all our votes were counted. It wasn't a pleasant experience. We felt secure that this year the votes would be counted on the machine, that there wouldn't be these stacks of paper."
Wrobleski had a nice recap on the mess that paper absentee and affidavit voting caused in the 2001 race that then- and now-candidate Rose lost in 2001 by 170 votes. (Using NY's lever machines, the only ballots that ever need to be recounted are the paper absentee and affidavit ballots.)
Our recollection of the 2001 recount is that a good number of absentee and affidavit ballots got tossed because they weren't signed, or weren't dated, or weren't sealed properly in the proper envelope. We only wonder what the campaigns will be confronted with on Wednesday [the date for this special election recount], given the confusion that voters said greeted them when they appeared at the polling place.
Well, Debi Rose and her current opponent, Ken Mitchell, will go through that nightmare again. This time they go into the recount with Mitchell leading by estimates of 34 to 91 votes before the 395 absentee and affidavit votes have been counted. The Advance said that the Board of Elections attributed the fluctuating totals to errors made while votes were being tabulated by election workers.

So, how did paper balloting work out this week? We'll know more after the recount, but here are some preliminary anecdotes:


Also set to be re-examined on Wednesday are ballots that were "improperly" marked by voters on election night.

Voters were told to use a pen to fill in an oval on the ballot near the name of the candidates they wanted to vote for.

But some voters said they were given confusing information about how to fill in the ballot. Observers said that some voters circled their preferred candidate or placed an X next to the name.

Richman said that "if the voter's intent is clear, the board's standard is to count the ballot."

But deciding what constitutes a properly filled-in ballot could be a sticking point at next week's recount, with some observers believing that a protracted, Florida- or Minnesota-style legal dispute could ensue.

One possibly apocryphal story circulating in both the Mitchell and Rose camps has a North Shore voter filling in the oval for four different candidates on the ballot. But instead of voiding the ballot, it's said that the poll worker merely gave the four candidates indicated one vote each.

The Staten Island Advance story reported that many were "tickled to be a part of the novelty....

...Voters filled in the bubble next to the name of the candidate they were voting for and then folded the paper ballots twice before sticking it in a cardboard box with a slit cut across the top.

Some voters complained the text was too small. Other campaign staffers reported some mistakenly circled or put "X" marks over the bubble.

"We're back in the stone ages, huh?" said Ron Armitage after placing his vote. "I was surprised but I think it worked out all right."

The familiar Shoup lever machines have been used in every election since 1962, when John F. Kennedy was president. Some voters were so accustomed to pulling the lever that they felt a little unsure about how safe the paper-and-pen process was.

"I'm familiar with the machines and I know they already have a system in place," said Kenneth Archbold of New Brighton as he walked out of PS 31. "I feel weird throwing a paper in a box -- okay, where is it going now?"

Ken Archbold wasn't the only one concerned about paper ballots. Here's a comment on the election results from AnnieLee on 02/25/09 at 9:55AM:
I wouldn’t say that “THE 'CARD' IS GOING TO GET PULLED” but I do have some concerns regarding the way the voting ballots were handled. My understanding of the process of voting is that once you get to the polls and place your vote that it should a private matter. As I went up to the table to receive my paper ballot, I notice how everyone at the table was eating pizza, which explained the grease stains on the ballot. Once I marked my ballot, I was looking for a ballot box to place my private vote in and found that there wasn’t a box around but just an out stretched hand. While holding a slice a pizza in one hand the gentleman took my ballot, took a quick look at it and then folded it up. Later on that evening I found that and friend of my actually placed her vote not by a paper ballot but going into a voting both and pulling the lever.

Something just doesn’t seem right here."
Well, stay tuned for Wednesday's recount of more than 8500 paper ballots. Just think, if they'd delayed the election and used the lever machines, they'd only be counting a couple of hundred by hand.

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Money, influence and the fate of democracy in New York

Errol Lewis' column from today's Daily News paints an ugly picture NYC's Board of Elections process and what is to come. All that money and influence, leaving our democracy vulnerable to the powerbrokers. And all of it unnecessary if we just keep our lever system.

Money, influence and the fate of democracy in New York: "New York, one of the last states to comply with federal laws and court orders requiring an upgrade of voting machines, is holding public hearings - the next is Wednesday night - on the pros and cons of different computerized voting systems.

But the public hearings may be window-dressing for a rigged process. It appears that critical decisions about how we tabulate votes - the very core of our democracy - are being influenced, and perhaps controlled, by lobbyists and political fixers more concerned about their power, perks and paychecks than the public good.

As watchdogs have warned for years, the private corporations that manufacture and service voting machines are salivating over the prospect of supplying New York with voting machines."

Read the whole article. It will make your hair curl.
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