Your vote counts

Thursday, January 11th, 2007 | All Things

After the 2000 Florida debacle, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), mandating voting process reform in all the states. HAVA establishes specific safeguards to ensure integrity in our elections: chief among them that all voters be able to verify their ballots before they are cast and counted.

The primary considerations for a voting system are accuracy, anonymity, scalability and speed of results. New York State has the dubious distinction of being the first state ever sued by the Department of Justice for its worst-in-the nation record of complying with HAVA. Under HAVA, New York was required to phase out our nearly 20,000 mechanical lever machines and replace them with new technology accessible to people with disabilities in time for the 2006 elections. By March 2006, the state was so delayed in the conversion process that compliance would have been logistically impossible: there simply wasn’t time before the primaries to evaluate options and purchase new voting machines to replace the existing 1960’s models, then to train tens of thousands of election workers, and to educate political parties and the general public in using a new system. On April 10, New York State formally submitted its “Plan B” solution to the Court, through which a small number of ballot marking devices would be centrally located in each of New York’s 62 counties for use by disabled voters. The submission proposed delaying full replacement of the non HAVA-compliant machines until September 2007. After some negotiations on the details of the plan, the DOJ approved New York’s proposal, as the most realistic solution under the circumstances. On June 2, 2006 the Court signed a remedial order, effectively bringing the case to a close.

After over 40 years of service, 2006 was the last year lever machines were used. Public demonstrations of the proposed new voting machines, ranging in cost between $5,000 and $9,000 each, were held around town this month. The new systems have new features to enrich and facilitate the voting experience, e.g., alerting voters to races where they failed to vote, presenting ballots in multiple languages and allowing visually impaired voters to hear their ballot options.

The systems under consideration fall into two general categories. Some states have chosen optical scan systems, where voters fill out paper ballots to be read and tallied by scanners. While optical scan systems have the advantage of low cost and ease of use, critics point out the inherent inaccessibility for the visually impaired, and the fallibility of the scanning system — it’s similar to the one that resulted in widespread scoring errors on last year’s SAT’s, with discrepancies of up to 450 points out of a potential 2,400. Touch-screen machines exhibit what is known as a full-face ballot, displaying the entire ballot to the voter at once. To comply with HAVA’s requirement for a “permanent paper record with a manual audit capacity,” voters will be able to see their votes printed out on paper encased by a small glass window.

This month, the companies seeking state certification for their machines held demonstrations and participated in a public hearing on the new systems. Each of the four vendors — Avante International Technology, Election Systems & Software, Diebold Incorporated and Sequoia Voting Systems — gave a formal half-hour presentation to the public (followed by a question and answer period), and made their machines available for public trial.

Voting Machine Demo





On Tuesday, January 23 at 4PM, the New York City Board of Elections will hold an open public hearing on the proposed voting systems.

There are 3 Comments ... Your vote counts

January 22, 2007

Did any of the companies offer up their source code to public scrutiny? Wasn’t that the whole controversy with the Diebold execs giving massive donations to the GOP and winning contracts for voting machines in GOP held states?

January 22, 2007

The Diebold source code, at least, wasn’t exactly “offered up”

January 26, 2007

I think hackers may hijack the next election and stick some third party candidate in the White House.

Go for it ...